quick essay about something bad that happened a few years ago, sorry for all the commas, back to the nonsense asap. -j
We’re sitting in my office listening to a dumb song and I need new shoes, badly. The current models cost me ten dollars and used to be a brighter shade of red, with holes along the edges and off-brand rubber slowly giving in with every long walk. Usually I wear shoes until my feet scrape the pavement, sometimes a few weeks after that. I don’t like having more than one pair at a time.
“Are there police coming?”
So we listen to the rest of the song.
“You need new shoes.”
“Yeah, I don’t know.”
The song is ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice,’ and it feels appropriately trite. A real moment-maker would have put more thought into it, chose a song from an up and coming band as the camera slowly pans out of the room and into the big wide etc. This song is tired of itself and has to bounce off two walls to reach us, so by the time it limps in all three of us know it wasn’t worth the trip.
That’s a part of it, though. It’s a test, seeing how long you can stay in a room before the air is heavy, how long you can wear shoes before you step on glass, how long you can not say something until you drag your stupid feet to an air-conditioned, state-owned room and mumble to make yourself feel better. Or make someone else feel worse, but the doing of it is supposed to be what counts, right, maybe not, oh well.
It’s shorter than I remembered, the song and the walk there.
Sitting with my head in your lap makes me guilty by association, but I’m doing it because I know how to and that’s better than looking dumb. I am good at one on ones, I am good at hiding sharp things, I am good at breaking DVDs and putting them back in the case to make someone angry later. So we’re here, listening to this stupid song that’s asking a question that's supposed to be rhetorical but no, it wouldn't be.
“You know that pressing charges will be difficult, right?” An hour before. The city has procured me a female detective so that I might feel more comfortable “speaking anatomically.”
The combination of air conditioning and florescent lights make me tight all over, like someone’s going to try to check my blood pressure or rattle off an insurance number.
“That’s okay, I don’t want to press any charges.”
She notices my shoes but doesn’t say anything. Listening to a Troubled Young Woman talk about her problems on a Saturday night is not her preference, nor mine, but I called so she showed up.
“And you’re still associated with the perpetrator?”
That sounds a little dramatic, but I nod. Variations of this question come up a lot. If you’re hanging out at the scene of a crime, then chances are you had something to do with it, or that’s the prevalent opinion.
I start to talk and sound a little under-rehearsed - I’d been tempted to practice but you're not supposed to, it sounds like you’re lying. There’s only one other side to this particular story, and it doesn’t talk about it anymore. Too risky.
I had regaled the sweaty masses with the story one by one in the past year, in bedroom doorways, over chain restaurant tables and in matter-of-fact emails. I don’t hide it, you just have to know the right questions to ask. I’ll meet you in the middle, I’ll say he’s a good guy.
But right now I’m cold and nervous and the table is serious, intended for people who are pressing charges and not wasting a detective’s time, so everything comes out staccato. There’s the night in question, there’s moving out, moving back in, punching a tree, punching a person, long periods of nothing, doing the shows and learning the scripts. It’s not a movie I’d watch but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one, I just don’t like movies.
“And do you plan to remain associated with the perpetrator?”
I shrug and she’s infuriated. I am, too, but I’m smarter than to say anything that a single call could derail. It’s happened before, and it’s embarrassing to tell people you’re an idiot over and over, just the once is fine.
And I will remain associated, barring some burst of hysterical strength. I’m going to find him inside of an hour to listen to a bad song because the idea of going home or making eye contact with anyone else makes me feel sick.
“Probably,” I answer.
She writes something down, then just asks. “Why are you here?”
It’s interesting that this is the building I ended up in, right across the street from where “everything had gone down” (phrase of my choosing, accompanied by strategic eyebrow arch), next door to the grocery store we’d gotten caught shoplifting in. There was still a knot somewhere in the pit of my stomach that I was waiting to dissolve on its own. See how long you can go without getting sick, how many times you rewrite to hear this thing, not that thing because hearing that means that you can stay, and you’ll be okay.
I told the weekend detective the salient details. There’s being followed into the bathroom after an argument, bumping my head on the medicine cabinet mirror, and sitting on the floor of our nicest shower in our worst apartment and wondering where to go. I’d been warned these kinds of memories tend to stick to the inside of your head in oversaturated color but I feel myself losing a grip on the whole thing with every telling.
What’s really scary is the colors in the scene fading, the words that I said and the answers that came after garbled, not knowing whose shampoo I used, remembering that I was waited for but not the TV show that was watched in silence. With the right kind of demented discipline, I can carefully crop myself out of the scene and paste in two different people, two dummies who are ruining everything, and wake up the next morning feeling overdramatic for worrying in the first place. It wasn’t a mirror, it was a TV screen.
The question, I believe, was why am I here.
“I just want it written down somewhere.”
This answer is her worst fear. I have officially, permanently wasted her time. “Okay,” she says with a deep inhale, “well now it is.”
She looks down at my shoes – they’re soaked at the tips from the trite rain that’s falling outside. This night was composed by an eighth grade English student, real lazy work.
“Maybe time for new sneaks,” she says.
“Yeah, I don’t know.”
I walk over the bridge again, don’t even bother to take the long way like I normally would. Call my parents, they are proud, buy a Big Gulp, diet soda, this isn’t a special occasion.
I remember what was said when I threatened to take my shoes to that air-conditioned office. This means no more getting home from a night job when the other is leaving for day job, no more day old pastries in the fridge, no more yelling at each other onstage to sand down the edges of whatever happens later. I’ve broken a lot of DVDs and yelled in a lot of doorways, so victim doesn’t feel like the right word. I’m just happy to be in the same room as you for a few minutes, air or not.
The song ends and I lift my head up. I don’t like that we’re crying because it’s not a good song, but that’s a part of it. It’s a bad song, but I still know all the words and it gets stuck in my head until I have to listen to it again. There’s the air conditioned room tonight but then there’s the hospital room when my kidney stopped working, and there’s the hand holding in the ward upstate, and the story I printed out for you even though the nurses were worried about paper cuts, but then there’s the whispered suggestion that the whole thing was my fault so no, the song isn’t good.
But I know all the words by heart, and that's better than looking dumb.
“I’m moving away,” you say, and I try to tell you about how cold the air conditioning was. You say it again. I wonder how many broken DVDs you found, and whether you’ll ever ask me about it.
“Okay,” I say.
There’s a different song playing now, and somebody’s knocking on the door. I should go.
“Why did you come here?” he asks.
“Yeah, I don’t know.” But I do, and I don't replace the shoes for another three weeks.