Journal entry: New Year’s Day. C. K.
At 5:30 am, I was already up and writing. This had been happening more frequently over the past few weeks. I understand what they mean when they use the words manic episode but it doesn’t quell the energy and it didn’t let me sleep. The sun would be barely seeping through the blinds as I hunched over my notebook beginning my second cup of coffee. And truthfully, I didn’t even begin my coffee until I’ve written my dream down. This morning, the french press is next to the window. I don’t remember doing that.
At about 745, I decide to take a shower and get dressed. My stomach rumbled but I was caffeinated, rested and supported by a long light I couldn’t touch but felt was there. It was 9:30 by the time I got out the door. I mosy. After I showered, I do remember sitting on my bed naked letting the drops run down my leg and feeling the sun stream on my feet through the curtain. At some point, I was across the comforter with my arms spread. It was freezing but I ignored that; stared at the little flecks of glitter dotting the beige ceiling– a present from the last tenant. They look like constellations, a lucky man said once. Get out. I glanced at the clock: 8:03 am. Getting dressed was difficult for me. Not so much the choosing of the outfit but accepting that I was going outside today in an effort to be confirmed and seen by the rest of the society. I do exist, my saunter says. What I wanted was to hide so what I forced myself to do was go for a walk every day. It is isolative but not as lonely.
I needed comfort for the storm so I wore my brother’s old sweatshirt and my favorite gray cap. I wore leggings under my black pants and thick socks for warmth. It was supposed to snow. I wore combat boots with good tread. I put on my long coat and wrapped the lower half of my face in my biggest scarf. My hair was covered completely with caution. I felt the sanctity of my shrine life so close to me and slipping away. Every moment counted and I did nothing but count time.
By the time I was at 32nd street, it was 9:37. Time fades and when I remember, I check my clock. That’s a bad habit, my mother said once. That’s not the worst, I retorted. At 32nd street, I had to decide how I was feeling. The snow was light. My eyelashes were grazed with little droplets of white. It would be icy soon which frightened me. I do not trust sidewalks and myself on ice. Sometimes I won’t take the bridge. Sometimes I face it no matter what. Sometimes I stand at the corner of 32nd and Hamilton for an unknown amount of time. Today, I took the university city side to get to the trail. It was going to storm. I was afraid of ice.
Given the fact that it was New Year’s Eve day, the campus was rather deserted which was nice. Men don’t bother me and women don’t make an impression at all, but people in groups distract me. I prefer men the least. They have roving eyes and a presence that stalks even in passing, even with their hands at their sides, even with their partners. They still want me and I feel it. I look down a lot or up to the sky or I suddenly check my reflection. Sometimes I will stare at them the whole way until right before their eyes meet mine. In an act of petty revolt, I will glance another direction when we are close enough to engage in small talk. A smirk spreads across my face as they pass and they feel thwarted and smaller by the impasse. I feel tall like a goddess. Even momentarily, these feelings are worth it. In our short lives, we are all entitled to feel giant sometimes.
The women pass with a onceover. The women with men pass me with contempt. I don’t have to do anything to provoke envy. I don’t have to look them up and down or eye their man or make a single move. They know I am going nowhere. They know I have nowhere to be. They see my leisurely gait, one knee always braced in case of sudden fall which has created a bit of a limp but a strong limp; a limp on a journey. It is not what I look like; they can’t see me. My face is masked by my clothing and downward gaze or upward gawk. It’s not what I am wearing. I am not cool or put together the way women in packs look. They see me alone and going nowhere. What they despise, and it only lasts a second, is the air I possess in my awkward gait. My arms don’t swing when I walk. I clench. And my knees hurt sometimes from the tension of waiting for a fall so I sometimes have to suddenly straighten or relax in my step. It is always obvious that I am in pain. My jaw is usually clenched with my fist in my pocket. I am staring straight like a soldier. What they resent is that no one walks beside me. What they fear is their own freedom. What they want from me is my violence contained. I am my own blade container and they see it as I walk past them. My teeth grinding into my gums so I don’t suddenly bite the necks of the men they deign to love. Women know. They see me dripping in blood. They see me dripping in blood and not a man to stop me. They see me contain myself.
I continue to walk to Walnut St. There will be crowds of people then. I will blend in quickly and disappear; a city chameleon. I walk aimlessly for hours, waiting for and wanting nothing. My leisure is a gift from God. I pass storefronts without notice. I pass by many men. I play the eye contact game the whole way. This makes me smile. My smile invites them so I walk faster through the crowd. I am at 13th street before I realize I passed the bridge entrance and I feel some strange relief. Do I want to take the parkway? Do I want to turn on Chestnut and play it safe? Hours seemed to have passed without me checking the time. It’s 11:30 am! Two hours and I have noticed nearly nothing. I look around and see couples gazing over. They aren’t talking about me, but I am not sure.
I am stopped on a rainbow in the gayborhood outside of a sorbet shop. This is so usual. Should I make use of my time? I can’t imagine buying sorbet in this cold except I do it all of the time. It’s like you don’t realize you’re on autopilot until you’re in Capogiro asking to try the pineapple, the pineapple you have tried a thousand times before. You know what will happen. If he is cute, you will smile and lick the spoon and ask for strawberry after you finish with the pineapple. If he is not, you will order the mango immediately. It’s a game that you play every day, but yet, you deny it.
A young white girl was working the counter so I ask for banana. I already knew I liked it and I didn’t want to waste any more time. 11:42 am. Damn. I’ve done nothing today. I sit in Capogiro for awhile. A couple comes in. They are young and both wearing blue scarves and falling in love and I am sad immediately. I can tell they are in falling in love by how loudly she laughs when he tells the story of his friend’s bike accident which isn’t funny or even that tragic and I want to interrupt. I want the attention back on me. I want to walk by him and whisper “I’m dying and you’re boring and she deserves better.” But I drop a pen on the floor to draw attention so I don’t say anything. They look at me for a second and order cappuccinos which irritates me. I get moving. 12:10pm. How did I get here?
Suddenly outside and something happens. My phone vibrates. I check it and it’s a text:
“Hey how are you??”
I feel irritated by the interruption but I continue on. I decide to take the parkway. If I take the parkway, it will be a longer walk and I will have to cross the bridge but I will have more leisure time which I like. I decide to stop for coffee. I stop in Starbucks. I don’t care if others think it’s evil. I am indifferent to everything. That isn’t true but it makes me feel better. I wait behind a lot of people. I have been wearing headphones this whole time with nothing playing. I am easily annoyed by interruptions that I did not start. There are several men looking at me from a table near a window. I do this thing I do when I feel threatened: I bare my teeth but I look straight as if I don’t see them, I just smell them. I wait until I feel their eyes move back over their phones or their casual conversation and then I smile. My peripheral is that of a hawk’s. I never enter a conversation I didn’t mean to start.
When I get to the counter, I place my bookbag gently next to the machine and pull out my cup. I have waited this long to do it for no reason other than I forgot. This irritates everyone in line and I can feel it. It irritates them because my cup is buried underneath everything else I own. I am good at charm. I smile and I have rehearsed this the way kids rehearse their classroom speech and are braced for feedback. The kid knows everyone’s asleep, but that doesn’t mean the kid doesn’t struggle with a sense of grandiosity.
“May I have a coffee with soy milk in this cup, please?”
I pull out my wallet, then my notebook, then a half empty bottle of hand sanitizer before I get to the top of the cup which I can then pull out. My nerves are on fire. I don’t know why, but sometimes I have to rehearse things in order to feel settled. Today was going badly. I felt unnerved. I don’t like when I am unprepared.
She rings me up and I fiddle with my wallet. I have cash. That makes it easier. I am nervous all of the time. I move to the side very aware that the line has grown behind me. I want to scream and see if anyone will look up from their phone but I also want nothing to do with the world. It is a terrible ballet between constant fright and need and the in between is that I keep confronting my own shrinking mortality. I hear the name, a sharp yell “Camelia!” and I almost run to pick up my cup. I found it on the ground and I washed it. It is green and black and says “Safety starts with me.” Nothing I own is that significant but it always draws attention.
I decide to sit for a while. I check the time. 12:42. I don’t have anywhere to be tonight, although I pretend I have somewhere to be. It’s New Years and I don’t really want to be found by midnight; I don’t want the invasive kiss even on the cheek. I don’t want to wear the ball gown draped on my bed. I don’t want to put on the plum lipstick and purse my lips in an effort to get you to think of them. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to meet you or feel your fingertips brush mine as you pass me on my way to somewhere else. You are ice cold. i am the villain? I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to know our fate and meet it anyway. I don’t want to see this.
Someone knocks over the sugar container and I snap out of it. I drink too much coffee I think. I am jittery and have started gnawing on the straw I keep in my pocket without noticing. I don’t remember taking my hand out of my pocket and pressing the straw in between my teeth. I was gnashing it loudly with fervor before I could feel my jaw bend, move in and out of its resting place. Grinding your teeth is a subtle grounding practice that everyone admonishes, but it is the only thing keeping me tethered to this Earth. When I am like this, I sometimes do not come back fast enough. When I am in public, I rely on mechanisms to save me. That’s a bad habit, my mother said. You should see the others, I snapped. The men at the table near the window catch me muttering to myself. I look the other way hoping they do not see the flush of red hit my cheeks or have the density to assume that I am just coming from the cold and that is why I am so rosy. I am an exotic prisoner everywhere I go. I cannot take up but so much room and every eye is on me. There is no escape. I glare on instinct. I get up suddenly and leave without warning.
You ghosted me.
You ghosted me, he said.
I did not.
You left without saying goodbye?
That’s how I leave. You knew I’d come back.
I never knew anything.
These conversations play in my head as I walk the street. I am a walking ambush. I am turning the corner of 22nd and Market already and I let my fingertips graze a stranger. These conversations play in my head. I am never alone. I let my fingertips graze a stranger so he is not alone anymore either.