Saturday, April 14, 2007

One Half-Year

03 Pretty (Ugly Be...

June 2004: Hell’s Kitchen, New York

I felt so ugly before
I didn't know what to do

-- Elliott Smith, Pretty (Ugly Before)

I walked to my car, after watching former friends in a comedic cabaret performance (the less said about the performance the better). My former friend, someone I had lived with and gotten close to, had performed in a set of skits. Every laugh from the audience was an insult. His current roommate brought over my former friend’s mother prior to the show and she hugged me. I was wearing my battered blue Volcom Stone hoodie, a uniform for most of the year. I clung to it (it gave me power when I was otherwise flickering, especially in social settings) because I had found it at a thrift store across from Powell’s in Portland, Oregon the prior year during one of my solo driving trips.

I stumbled to the car in a haze, clutching books given to me by someone who liked me. She had given me a few of the Pramoedya Ananta Toer novels. I was unable to sustain a coherent conversation with her. She hadn’t liked me much a few months earlier when I was another soulless desi boy from the suburbs but then had seen me speak on a panel on the post-9/11 immigration sweeps. As she attempted to engage me in the back of the ratty theater and I mumbled my responses, desperate for her to leave me alone, we were watched by another woman with whom I had broken up a few months earlier. As with most sensitive and intelligent people, her quietness coexisted with a sharp observational quality. She saw the Toer-reader pass the books to me and she saw her attempt to engage me. It was a banner year, three hearts broken (or dented or cracked or whatever), not including my own.

I was an outcaste amongst a small group of Brooklyn friends, mostly desi, and the exclusion oppressed me. No one spoke for me in the group or did anything about my absence at gatherings, other than a few who met me for individual dinners and explained that they regretted the circumstances. The callousness, complicity, and small-mindedness of my former friends pushed me over a ledge into a deep hole. I want to say that it was deeper than any hole in which I had been submerged earlier in my life but as I consider the statement I can’t say it. Each period of my life – adolescence, college, law school, San Francisco, Brooklyn 98-02 – has been marked by a deep hole out of which I have not been sure I could surface. I withdrew into my pilly blue hoodie every time I ventured out of my apartment and I mumbled responses to people that I met. My trust in my self and others was degraded.

* * *

July 2004: Isla Holbox, Yucatan

An embarrassing poem
Was written when I was alone
In love with you

-- Wilco, Wishful Thinking

[journal entry] Started vomiting from Palenque to Cancun. Palenque felt off – the heat during the day caused me to gasp for breath, which was a precursor to the breathlessness I felt in my feverish dream-state last night. The town was so dingy, such a change from San Cristobal – which one starts to think of as representing Mexico, wrongly. Not the height of suffering on any scale, but it makes you think about how alone you are and you become as scared and sad as a child. The rest of the time we have our rationalizations and self-understanding – it all falls away as you are vomiting into a garbage can and shitting your pants at the bus station.

* * *

December 2004: Los Angeles, California

can't count to
all the lovers i've burned through

-- Sun Kil Moon, Carry Me Ohio (via 5 Acts)

I escaped to L.A. before the Fall semester had been fully extinguished, ostensibly to work on my writing in the company of a friend. I shipped out two boxes of books and papers and set about trying to work in various places, including the UCLA law library, Peet’s in Westwood, and a house in Santa Monica where I was staying. What I did is very familiar: I allowed my sleep schedule to get completely off-track, staying up all night and sleeping during the day; compulsively shopped for music; watched every movie released during the late-year Oscar glut; avoided my friend and his family, even as he attempted to draw me into his structured life; got drunk on New Year’s Eve with another friend and pretended to be attracted to random women at bars and on the street; and obsessed about my loneliness and took long drives to random places at odd hours.

I had effectively broken things off with another woman before I left New York, a brilliant, joyous, and perplexing person. That relationship had lasted a month or so, just short of the length of the relationship with my sensitive, intelligent friend earlier in the year. The perplexing one was scheduled to visit her family in Southern California and we had spoken about getting together, but she called one day and told me she couldn’t see me. She had given me refuge during a difficult year. When I returned to New York, I claimed to have gotten my work done during the month in L.A., when in fact I had written just a few paragraphs of my article. I let the precious moments fall out of my grasp.

1 comment:

lostandfound said...

revealing writing. didn't really know or understand your situations during those times. but glad you are in a better place.