Just Like Me

Your-own-private-Bose-Idaho headphones are on, canceling the noise you don’t choose for the noise you do; they are connected to your iPhone, which is connected to your hips, which are connecting the bops of Betty Who:

I heard she’s beautiful
A 20 out of 10
That doesn’t keep me from
Wondering how you’ve been

She is in St. Cloud. It sounds like the safest place. It sounds like the name of a TV drama. There was one called that, wasn’t there? In a hospital? No, that was St. Elsewhere. Perhaps that is more accurate. The cop who pulled her over said she did not know who she was. Now she cannot call you. She cannot text you. Her husband calls you. Her husband texts you. You both talk about her like a place card at a table setting; you wonder when the real person will be there.

So if you think you’re falling apart
And I’m the only one you’ll call
If you keep reaching for me in the dark
And can’t stand it anymore

You are doing the dishes, spinning the scrub brush around the outline of the plate, like a tone arm and turntable reversed. At the moment you are happy, because for momentary happiness, Betty Who is your Captain Picard: she makes it so. Especially when you first heard “Somebody Loves You” as the soundtrack of a flash mob marriage proposal between Spencer and Dustin Stout-Reese. It simultaneously went viral on the internet and in you, infecting with false hope. Someday, you think, they will release a study that concludes gay marriages are unnatural and unhealthy. What a terrible thought, you think, and you tell the thought so. It was not you thinking it, you decide, setting a Tupperware container aside to soak. It was a character – a character without an arc, drowning in a flood, because all the other animals have their partner. “At least she is married now,” you told the pastor earlier. “She cannot be alone. I’ve known her for years and I’ve always known that.” “I met her at a performance of your play,” the pastor replied. “she said, ‘it’s so funny that we’re meeting here, because this play is about me.'” In the bead counter of your mind, you try to calculate what is more narcissistic: her imagining your play is about her, or you insisting it is about you.

Then you just call my name
I will do the same
You can look into my eyes and see
If you’ve got a broken heart
Then you’re just like me

At the beginning of the breakdown, she wrote to you in an e-mail, “GOD can play with pretty, fragile, tragic, desecrated, dishonored, shamed and histrionic messes like ‘us’ – and you and I know our heaven was granted because it would not be again the night I feel in love with the band that captured all the songs I shared with you waiting for him…and the songs would have been forgotten if I didn’t know in my heart that you secretly loved me more than you thought I loved you – and I let you in whatever way you wanted because I was always water and I could transcend whenever the world was too much for me to share…This is not good-bye, this is I will find you again when God wants to remind us of his story as he would tell it – but we have to establish what we think our narrative is – so we predict what we don’t want – in the deepest hope that we get everything we need before what we want, because I can only hold the things that are truly cherished in my heart – as you are my darling Ben.”

Just like just like me
Just like just like me
Just like just like me
Just like just like me
Just like just like me
Just like just like me

Any Kind

She always seems to be posing for an Edvard Munch portrait: the splash of startled agony on her face, diluted milk skin, bowed slender appendages.

The roommate and I have often wallpapered over her personhood with explanations: mental illness, physical illness – so intoxicated with the fumes of our rational paste that we forgot our own illnesses. We are afraid: of her, for her, of ourselves, for ourselves.

Today (like every day) she is sitting on an office chair on an outdoor patio, near the front entrance of the apartment building. Just what is her occupation? Bouncer? Secretary? Gargoyle? I smile and say hello, as I do every time she is in her office. In response, her eyes widen like Malcolm McDowell in the eyelids-forcibly-pried-open part of A Clockwork Orange. Or Gloria Swanson in any part of Sunset Boulevard.

I am about to flee the scene of the kindness; I am about to close the thick curtains of disregard over my glass block sympathy; when her hand rises into the air like a periscope. Her mouth opens to reveal a dark graveyard with evenly spaced tombstone teeth and it says, “are you going out again?”

Doorman! That’s what she is. I didn’t know. “Oh,” I stammer, “No. Well, yes. In a little while.”

She leans towards me. “Would you buy me some cigarettes?”

“Oh,” I walk towards her, “yes.”

“I’ve been jonesing for a cigarette,” she says, trembling towards her concept of a standing position, then staggering like a zombie grandmother into her apartment. She reemerges carrying some crinkled bills. I ask her what kind.

“Menthol 100s.”

“Oh. What kind?”

“Any kind.”

Later, I walk to the closest gas station and ask for Menthol 100s.

“What kind?” Asks the clerk.

“Any kind,” I respond.

“I’ll get you the cheapest.”

I am on the way back, when I see a squirrel running away from another one that’s not moving. I walk towards the one that’s not moving. He is dead, laying on his belly, appendages outstretched in every direction, just inches from the curb. So perfectly preserved; he must have been stolen from a taxidermist. Eyes like dark frozen lakes, reaching for something beyond his grasp. I look up and see the first squirrel run up a tree.

She is waiting for me on the patio. I hand her the cigarettes and recount, “he said these were the cheapest.”

“Thank you.”

Pause. We are uncomfortable, but we can’t move. I feel my voice sneaking out of my mouth like a teenager out a window. This is how it sounds: “I’d like to be your friend.”

She lights a cigarette. “I’d like that.”