What Jane Wore to Jamaica

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Emerging from the subway into the miasma of workers, men striding superbly in their splendid suits streaming currents of thick-headedness and cologne, ripe to bursting with self-confidence and generalized contempt, lost in thought no doubt of cigars growing cold on their tongues, the snaky veil of hatred and self-defense filming their eyeballs behind which circulated thoughts like should they buy a speedboat or what? I headed for the museum, gasping for breath in the sea of worker garments, the snickering tangerine suits on the women, the judgmental black jackets, the blast of hatred from a psychedelic scarf, the vicious frantic click rising to my ears of spiked heels on the sidewalk. We reached the curb and I waited in the swell of colors and perfume for the light to change. A woman turned toward me, the plastic and velvet parrot appliqué on her sweatshirt the visual equivalent of a mallet in the face. Look both ways, step from the curb, and have the following thoughts as you stumble through the cross walk. Fear of death. I was 7 in my bed gazing out the window at the lilac twilight, summer moonlight snowing down, aching with death and sadness, I just could not wrap my mind around the fact that I could cease to exist. Calm yourself down, tell yourself, say Everybody dies, of course you will die someday, something will definitely get you, only question is when and with what degree of horribleness, whether at the hands of dad, priest, or guidance counselor; serial killer, boyfriend, or doctor; suicide, accident, disease, botched tumor removal at hands of a salesman operating the equipment. Baby ain’t no way you’re getting out of this one alive and it’s going to be bad cuz you’re a girl. Relax. None of us knows when, though that thought makes it hard to unwind, fills me in fact with tension and a sense of the need for ceaseless vigilance. I fought the impulse to get down on my knees on the asphalt, cowering with my arms protecting my head. You must detach, I thought, shut down, hit “D” for Denial, I don’t care, it’s fine, everything’s fine, cuz me no fucking care, just need soy milk in box, focus on the body’s tiny, incessant needs. Soy milk prevents osteoporosis and cancer, or something. Cancer. Oh my god. Well you can always kill yourself to escape the fear. Think all these things as, terrified, you approach the midpoint of the crosswalk, on your way to the far shore of the street. Engaged in my ruminations I glanced at the “God Bless America Nail, Tanning, and Hair Salon,” the sign written in enormous flowery script, and next to that the little business “Crafts & Talk,” that you went down a couple of steps from the sidewalk to enter, I always looked in the window, but never saw ladies sitting at a table knitting and chatting, which of course is what the sign would lead you to expect. 14th Street in winter, cold and windy, the flinty white sidewalk and its glare, sunlight bounced up from its surface like glass, hard, struck your eyes in shards, in summer it was more melty, like now. Vis-à-vis the sunlight, I’m thinking pinwheels. For years my body ambulated through the streets like Ms. Pacman, chewing things up, inhaling, almost always in a state of panic. Places I have gone on my own two legs, swinging my legs across the sidewalk, the bricks towering around me feel like they’re in my skin, rubbing against it. Places I have gone: across the avenues to score drugs, at all times of the day and night; to work and home from work; to the supermarket; AA meetings; to the rivers, both the Hudson and the East; to visit my brother down on Wall Street, to poetry readings and performances; to get my hair cut and colored; to rehearsals, to the discos, to the apartments of girls I’m in love with who don’t love me back. Now in the crosswalk the air around me hemorrhaged neon from the skirts and blouses of the workers, lifting me vertiginously on its surge. I felt nauseous, I felt faint. I wanted Jane. I wanted Jane walking beside me, chain-smoking after yoga, Jane of the striated muscles and psychotic clothing, attire of humor and madness, not the madness of self-conscious eccentrics who got themselves up in costumes that shouted I Am An Eccentric, but clothes that were at once the product of a highly developed personal aesthetic and deeply not giving a fuck. Once, following a horrid night for us both of cocaine snorting and anxiety attacks with no heroin to calm us down, either because it wasn’t available or we were being good, probably the former, Jane bounded from the bed after approximately eight minutes of a fitful, fibrillating sleep. She had to catch a cab to the airport, she was meeting friends in Jamaica, it was cheap this time of year, and she cried, “God, I’m hung over. I was so lonely and sad in the bed! Should I wear all red on the plane?” I too had been lonely and sad, nay miserable, myself, out here on the vinyl couch, I had been isolated and afraid as my heart galloped against my esophagus and the mistreated dog in the apartment below wept into the airshaft outside Jane’s kitchen window. We had retired the snorting equipment around 4 A.M. and the clock inched toward 4:30 then 5 after Jane abandoned me for the bedroom and I lay on the couch, the movement of the clock hands measured according to the number per minute of my accelerated heartbeats, the dog’s melancholy tune slid up the bricks through the window screen and along the carpet, gliding up over the cushions into my ears and pooled behind my eyes, stuck, I couldn’t cry but if I ever did they would be the tears of a dog, and I drank beer after beer from the six-pack on the carpet to try and choke down panic, listening to Jane toss and cough in the bedroom, and now I wanted to say to Jane, Well if you were so lonely and sad why didn’t you have me come and get in the bed with you? But of course I couldn’t say this, because if she’d wanted me in the bed, I reasoned, she would certainly have asked. Jane knew that at any given moment all she had to do was utter the command and I was at her service. On the other hand, perhaps that was the problem: maybe she was trying to tell me now that she’d wanted me in the bed but been too shy to ask. Either too shy or not in the mood; perhaps she was saying I wish you were braver, more assertive, could read my mind, were more of a top and less of a bottom. Perhaps she was saying, I’m sick of driving this car. You take over the wheel. This I doubted. The crushing fact was Jane was lonely and sad in spite of my presence; my person, who loved her, did nothing for her, did not make her feel better in the world. She was telling me, You were here, so very close, yet still I was sad and lonely, perhaps your presence even deepened my isolation. On the other hand, I reflected as Jane searched frantically for her wallet, she could have been commenting simply on the horrors cocaine visited upon your brain chemistry, taking you chemically to an arid, skeletal place of abandonment and despair, a Burroughsian Place of Dead Roads that existed entirely independent of your life circumstance, a place to be found exclusively at the bottom of a cocaine spiral, a place always and only purely chemical, nothing could feel this bad without the intervention of cocaine, for, no matter what atrocities a person was enduring, for example a Tutsi being stabbed with a machete by a Hutu, the correctly functioning brain would always secrete endorphins and other morphine-like natural opiates designed to put you into shock, or a trance. So there was reason to believe that the horror of the cocaine low had no correlative in the real world; on the other hand an argument could be made that the horror of the cocaine low was perhaps evidence of the true world; perhaps our endorphins were shielding us from the unrelievedly grim nature of reality. Perhaps unfiltered, the world was a place of unbearable agony and anguish and pain, perhaps the cocaine low presented to us the true nature of being embodied. Possibly then cocaine was the ultimate drug of insight for it prevented your brain from rescuing you from reality, horrid to think of, but my point in this chapter is what Jane wore to Jamaica. I stood in the living room locked into sadness and dread while Jane rushed around pushing things into a cheap nylon bag. I loved the green bag, shaped like a sausage, that Jane was stuffing, loved Jane for knowing one could go out and purchase a green nylon bag in which to tote your belongings. It was always this way for me: any time the beloved showed they could do any ordinary task in the real world, something everybody in the world did every day as a matter of course, it deepened their mystery for me and made me crazy with love. Not unlike the suffering Tutsi I would be stabbed, only this time with love and admiration, to the point of collapse. For I was not like them, these doers of the ordinary. Invariably, for instance, it never occurred to me until the moment of departure that one of the salient characteristics of the journey was the travel bag or suitcase; until it came time for actual packing, the concept of the suitcase never crossed my mind. Consequently the packing frenzy in the hour prior to leaving for the airport always consisted of me shoving books and clothing into a ridiculously heavy ancient bag with a broken handle, a remnant of some long-ago excursion to a Salvation Army. Once the suitcase was jammed to bursting, due to the inappropriate amounts of shit I shoved into it, hair mousse, illicit pills and vitamins, Zip drives and blowdryers and highlighter pens, extra notebooks and photos, scissors and penknives, eye shadows, lip liners, envelopes for the numerous letters I planned to write and never did, bills I somehow imagined being able to pay once free of the vortex of lesbian mental illness and poverty that was my apartment, I envisioned cash materializing in the enchanted zone of my destination, several kinds of boots and pants, preparation for all occasions, once the suitcase was jammed and had to be unpacked again to get it to close, I always vowed to get a really good bag first thing when I returned from the trip; and when I returned from the trip I always forgot about suitcases entirely until the next frenzied hour before departure. Jane rushed around stuffing the bag and when she was ready to go, I thinking of kissing her in spite of the iron vibrations that shook my toxic frame, I felt electrocuted and rusting, weepy, when Jane was ready to go she put on a bright red pair of pants and a soft threadbare red T-shirt, the shirt a paler shade of red but of the same family of reds as the pants which were a cheap cotton, wrinkled, Jane’s green eyes with their black fringe were practically swollen shut, her skin was mottled from our night of terror and abuse and her spiky tomcat hair or pelt shot into many conflicting directions and never had she looked more beautiful to me as she swiped some lipstick across her mouth, glamorous and poignant in the Picasso painting which was her desperate and humorous and hung over face, I couldn’t believe she was going to Jamaica, I couldn’t believe she could walk. But she bounded down the steps with the green nylon bag, there was a hole in the seat of her red pants, her tennis shoes were cracked and chipped, lanky streak in the red rags she brushed my cheek with a kiss, flowed into a cab and was gone, I left to gray hangover on the sidewalk, free-radical swarm encircling my ankles, self-inflicted toxin feeding frenzy devouring my serotonin, my soul. I reached the end of the crosswalk and was swept up to the sidewalk in the crowd. Smoking a cig across the street from the Metropolitan Museum, each cell in my body buzzed, a microscopic wasp. White dress w/ black polka dots and art earrings (black roses on wire), combat boots, purple eye shadow. Skirt blows up. Sometimes I kinda like it, but cellulite. Where was Jane. Hot out, breezy, blue sky I guess but huge gray buildings all around, fortresses of wealth. Suddenly Jane materialized in the crowd; she stepped to the curb across from me and lit a cigarette. My dad is dead but I have an art photo of Jane leaning across the sand, the horizon tilted, that’s how you know it’s an Art Photo, Jane an angular painting in her black swimsuit against the azure sky, her head slightly turned, looking away from me, laughing against a slanted sky. Now here she was across from me, alive, smiling, smoking. Jane lived and I would enter the museum with her, a living work of art. The light changed and I stepped again into the street.

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