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If I were my roommate I’d hate me too. So it’s okay, I understand. My closest friends don’t know this about me: I don’t waste words. I like sitting, I like quiet. They don’t know this: I don’t like to be drunk all the time. Sometimes I am, but I’d rather not be. It just happens. Sometimes when I talk my voice is suddenly way too loud and it’s because I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t said a word out loud for hours so it just leaps out of me all funny. That happens a lot here. It’s fine.
There are a lot of things living in Italy is great for; a self-esteem complex is one of them. Men will stare at you regardless of whether you are even remotely attractive, but it’s fun to pretend that it’s because you are the most beautiful creature they have ever seen. You just kind of cast your eyes down: “I know, I know, I’m a vision, but honestly, can’t you please control yourself?” I wore a low-cut shirt to the market today. I got a free apple. Wow, sweet. Not pathetic. Not a sad little watered-down form of prostitution.
And of course I have to fall in love with an Italian fruit vendor. Does he parlo inglese? No, of course he does not. Because he is a fruit vendor. But he wears these thick white-rimmed glasses, o mio dio…
Our relationship’s progression: First I stared at him daily. Then I began to do a little half-wave (wherein if he found it horrifying that some American was waving at him, it could possibly also be viewed as a minor tic of the hand). Then we began saying ciao to each other. Today I asked him his name. Roberto. Alright.
We lay there for a while. He kept having to ask me to move over, he was falling off the bed; it’s a very small bed, I can barely fit by myself. My head was resting on his arm and I wasn’t sure if that was appropriate. He asked suddenly, “D’you want to hear a story?” It was about this time when, after having sex with an ex-girlfriend of his, the condom disappeared and they’d had to go to the hospital together to excavate it from her. I don’t know why but hearing the story put me at inexplicable ease.
Sometimes at the grocery store I linger in the alcohol section after finding my yogurt and just-add-water soup mixes (I do not cook). If I am feeling particularly optimistic, I will buy two cheap bottles of Spumante. I will do this because I have a mental image of meeting some incredibly hip, interesting Italians who take an immediate liking to me, and then I invite them over and we finish the bottles and sprawl over each other on my day-bed. I end up drinking them all myself, going out with my classmates, and being the moronically drunk one.
There was an email from him yesterday. I sort of cleared my throat before I read it; I don’t know why. I could see him writing it. I bet he’s thinner than when I last saw him. When was that?
He wrote: “Sleep is the only thing I really enjoy at the moment, so lately I’ve been sleeping a lot more than usual. Unfortunately my dreams have been very mundane as well. I went grocery shopping last night and bought a huge thing of peanut butter but this afternoon my cabinets and fridge were still empty (no peanut butter).”
Memories come in strange flashes lately. This morning I watched myself sweating in the gym mirror and I sharply remembered dancing in our friends’ dorm room and whenever we would play this one techno song, “Sandstorm,” we’d make everyone drop onto the floor when the song hit the dramatic slow part, then spring back up flinging beer everywhere. These memories jab me in the ribs when I least expect them: the dogs in the animal hospital on the train to work; my mom’s head when her hair was growing back; the feel of an old sweatshirt I threw away.
We came in and sat on my couch; it was freezing and I couldn’t walk anymore. I turned on the tv, then wondered why. “We don’t really need to watch tv,” he said. We sat in silence for the longest I’ve ever been silent with another person. I told him that and he said, “I sit in silence a lot.” I think he could see my legs were shaking. The interesting thing was that part of me knew we were thinking the exact same thing, and another part knew equally that wasn’t true at all. I don’t know, now.
After an hour of pure silence he wrapped his hand around mine in a sudden deliberate motion. Both of our hands were bone-white. I felt something heavy and solid expanding in my chest, dizzying, and I turned to look him in the eyes (I’d avoided it all night—when our eyes met, I blinked). I slowly cupped my hand around his jawbone jutting out of his gaunt face. I don’t know why I was so surprised at the weight of his body. I think I’d expected him to be of a more ghost-like composition, like I could reach through him.
I’m sorry—I always get like this when it gets cold—I get filled with other cold memories, branches and bone-white hands, that stuff. I’m sorry if these sound like love stories, because they’re not. They are from cold, quiet nights. We would chain-smoke because it was something to do with our hands. We sat on the edge of his town’s man-made lake and talked about books. The whole time I was terrified because I assumed he was unconcerned with things like sliding hands down beneath a waistband, and all I had left to prove myself were thoughts. It was strange.
So I’ve been going to this same kebab place for lunch every day this week. It’s too expensive for what it is, really, but I just go there without thinking—I go to the same places over and over because I want to be a regular so people can ask me how I’m doing. Desperate times. Today I sat in the corner with lemon tea and watched the kebab guy shave meat shreds off a big chunk of lamb and I thought, “Maybe I could live here? Past this semester?” I have become bipolar.
But, maybe I could, though?
The fruit did not look good on the inside—there were brown bruises in it. But it tasted okay. I don’t even know the name of the fruit. It was a small yellow thing.
“I had this dream last night,” my friend said. “I was walking through the city and everything was on fire—you could look on the horizon and the mountain range was burning, just a whole hilly fire-y line everywhere you look, and I kept falling down everywhere because I was too drunk to walk I think. I kept waking up panting. Know what I mean?”
When my friend broke her foot, our other friend asked her on the phone, “Are you sad?” She said, “Um… yes,” and he quickly said, “Oh okay,” and hung up. We all laughed about it later because it was a really awkward question. “Are you sad?” We don’t really ask things like that.
But the thing is, I really want to know now. Are you sad? And I can’t ask it because it’s a joke now. Maybe sometime I’ll ask. I think she is. Sad.
I have to practice before I say serious things. I usually fuck it up.
When he says that he wants to get a job on a fishing boat, I don’t question it. “I know it sounds strange,” he says. Yes and no. Not really. It doesn’t take much work to imagine him on a deck in a slight storm, soggy cigarette in his mouth, bent over a wriggling net, white fish-bellies flashing. Is that really how it works? I don’t know. He won’t come back if he goes. I’m surprised that I don’t care if he disappears off into the sea. It’s appropriate. I can live with that. It’s pretty fucking poetic, actually.
Something I’d like to do, probably with these results:
From my balcony I watched a guy getting his helmet from the back of his motorino and figured I’d give it a try.
“Hey!” He looked around, then up.
“Hey! Would you like to come have some wine?”
“Ah… no. Who are you?”
“Oh… no one. I just, I have some wine here, you see, and I thought it might be kind of cool, you know, kind of exciting. Like a short story or something, you know? Some strangers drinking wine?”
“No… it’s just kind of creepy.”
“Oh, okay. Sorry.”
I slept through all but two classes this week—I somehow felt entitled to a six-day weekend. Couldn’t do it. Don’t know why. I don’t care about school. Were I the only person my actions could disappoint, I’d drop out tomorrow. Travel. Bartend. I don’t know. My roommate came and nervously prodded me awake Wednesday morning. “Meaghan? Um, are you going to class?” I blinked. “Uh… no. I have cramps. Terrible cramps. I can’t go.” “Oh, god, okay well, feel better.” Better already.
All I want to do is have fun all the time! Is that so much to ask?
When I was little my family went on vacation to South Carolina and while we were there, a man drowned on the beach outside of our hotel. He just went too far out, to where the riptide can pull you under (they explained this to me then, I don’t really remember how it goes exactly) and that was it, he was gone. They sent out search boats for a few days and finally one day his body washed up on the shore. At the time all I could think was, disgusting—a cold dead man just lying there on the beach.
All of the above is from last semester, in Rome. I gave up halfway through the month. It seems to have been the general theme of the semester—of this entire academic year, actually. I’m picking this shit up again now because—I don’t know. Because it’s something that might make me wake up before three in the afternoon every day? Doubtful. Because I’d like to think that I’m still capable, even in some meaningless forum, of tying up loose ends? If I tried now to tie up all the ends I’ve left loose this year, I’d develop fucking carpal tunnel.
I was high as shit and I couldn’t breathe. There were multiple reasons for that, including (1) that I had been smoking almost incessantly, (2) that I had been doing so with asthma, and (3) that Balin’s cat was sitting on my chest and I am allergic to cats. Instead, I immediately assumed that I was dying. Balin lifted the cat back to him and said, “He smells like you now. He picks up people’s scents.” I commanded myself, “Inhale… good. Again… good.” Walking home later, there was snow everywhere and every breath was like rising from the dead.
Realizing the world doesn’t give a shit about you isn’t as sad as I thought it would be. Actually, as my dad sat across from me in a booth in Subway and told me I was going to get chewed up and spit out by real life, I felt more alive than I had in weeks. I’d been telling myself, every day before I slept through my classes til mid-afternoon,
It’s OKAY, you have ISSUES. Nobody GETS it. Fuck them.
Everyone has issues, stupid.
But yours are WORSE!
This one I still have to teach myself to abandon.
“Soo… whatcha been doing?”
“No, actually nothing. I sleep til two. I watch tv. Then I get high and go to Taco Bell. Then it’s the weekend and I drink.”
“Oh. Yeah, I’ve actually been worried about this—I haven’t gone a day without drinking for a couple weeks.”
“Are you serious. You barely drank before.”
“Well yeah, I mean it’s usually just a beer at dinner or something but still, it’s every day.”
“So yeah there’s that.”
“Well I think somehow you’re gonna make it.”
“You really don’t need to be rude.”
In my hostel in Paris I had a room with three beds and a bathroom. The bathtub was filled with murky water with some film on top and the shower curtain was floating on the water. In the beds were one Asian girl in pajamas who never left her bed the entire weekend, one American girl who climbed over me one morning to get her six o’clock wakeup call, and me. It was the American who helped me into bed when I staggered in, practically unconscious, after wandering the city alone and drunk all night. The next morning was embarrassing.
I remember, it was so cold. It was March. Usually the train from South Bend to Chicago seems to drag on forever but it felt like seconds and I was there, transferred to the Green Line, called him.
“Are you picking me up.”
“Umm. I’m at Balin’s…”
“And? What the fuck, who’re all those people in the background?”
“I’m kind of drunk…”
I hung up, got off at Ridgeland, and started to walk. I lied before—I don’t remember if it was cold or not. It could have been the fucking tropics. I have no fucking clue.
He called about twelve times and I finally answered, sitting on a soggy bench in Taylor Park hugging my backpack. When he came to meet me he tried to kiss me; his mouth tasted like beer and I pushed him away. He started to cry.
“Oh, cut it the fuck out,” I hissed and he wiped his eyes. “You’re a goddamn emotional drunk.”
“I’m not that drunk.”
We sat there for a long time. He kept trying to put his arm around me and I kept pushing him away and thinking how much I wished he would die.
Oh right—it was cold, because eventually he said, “It’s really cold. Do you want to go to Balin’s now?” It was the last thing I wanted to do. I looked fucking terrible. But I couldn’t sit out there all night. We went in the back door; I mumbled hello to some of our friends and headed for his living room, which was dark. He sat next to me on the couch; I told him, “You can go hang out with your friends.” I could see he didn’t know what to do and I thought, “You are the world’s biggest idiot.”
I don’t know what happened the rest of the night. He eventually went home. I think I told him, “Sure, just go home. I don’t care.” And he did. I curled up on Balin’s couch and watched tv; I think it was the infomercial channel. I couldn’t sleep. I watched a cat walk around the room. I thought murderous thoughts to pass the time as the sun rose. Somehow my phone was in my hand; somehow I was calling my mom. It was 6 am. I was crying and I told her, “I need a ride to the doctor.”
I’d been lying in bed sick for days, reading the same three sentences of a library book. My throat burned with every sentence, so I didn’t talk. In a way I was happier than I’d been in a while. A good excuse is hard to come by. I could lie in bed all day, no class, no small-talk. Sickness is wonderful, like a long breath, or when you float face-down in a pool to see how long you can go. I only went to the university health center to see what medicine I could possibly get my hands on.
Questions they always ask: “Are you allergic to any medications?” “No.” “When was your last period?” “I don’t really remember.” Standard precautions. They take my blood pressure—it used to scare me, the tightening, my arm compressing—now it doesn’t feel any different whether the armband is on or off. They stick something down my throat. I take a piss in a cup.
The doctor comes in and he looks like he’s forgotten why this is his job again.
“You know your urine sample tested positive.”
For some reason I’m not surprised. I hadn’t considered this. But it doesn’t surprise me.
I grip a foam ball in my right hand and look away, at the corner of the room near the ceiling. After a while I can’t help but look. My blood is filling a tube. It always surprises me to see real blood. It looks wrong—it doesn’t look like the color blood should be. I want to throw up when I see what’s inside of me come out. I don’t want to see. The color is all wrong.
I do online research when my roommates sleep. I wonder if I could fake a sore throat for another month.
I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Sometimes I’m afraid I bring it up for attention. But I don’t want that kind of attention—but yes I do—I don’t know. I don’t tell people, really. My best friends don’t know. Am I being too cryptic? Maybe too melodramatic? I am a person who secretly wallows in her indiscretions, who touches them for reinforcement until they’re worn down—
at least I’m not boring! What the fuck do you know about this?
Life is only as bad as you make it—and you will. And then it can only get better—and it might.
I know I’m not pulling my own weight. It doesn’t feel that bad, is the problem. Self-pity and stasis fit me easily. I think nothing can hurt me. I hear that things tend to work themselves out and I adopt it as a mantra. I float on. I’ll get it together eventually. Other people do it. How hard can it be? I dare everyone to doubt me. I’ll fucking show them. Gimme five years. For now I’ll just lie here on the floor in front of the tv and drink my beer but eventually I’ll fucking show them what’s what.
The Tip Jar