“That’s kind of your thing though” he said, his comment hanging in the air.
“What?” she responded. “Being selfish?”
“Well, yeah.” The moment he said it, she knew the words could not be more true, although part of her body and brain suddenly wanted to fight back, claiming: “how dare he!” The other side: “oh, no question.”
“It’s always about you. You don’t put anything back in” as he continued, the words struck hard, and as she meditated on them, she stopped listening. It’s odd when someone calls your character into question. But could she really argue back? Didn’t she pride herself on her selfishness? Didn’t that mean she was doing this whole female empowerment thing right? I want what I want, and I don’t have to explain myself to anyone. She’d used that one often, when men wondered why she never stayed at their house, “look, I’m not in a place in my life where I want to compromise, if that doesn’t work for you, I totally get it, but that’s where I stand.”
Many thought they could handle it, there was currently zero still standing. She often wondered if her schedule just wasn’t conducive to partnership, or if she wasn’t. Intimacy was a tricky business, for most it meant a closeness, a leaning in. To her it represented a taking away, that someone wanted to be in her space, or wanted something from her. She didn’t mind the adoration, but as soon as they needed more of her time or presence, she was looking for the exit. It hadn’t always been like this. A select few had found their way in, and she would have given anything for them. How had they gotten there? And would it ever happen again? At the rate she was going, there would be none left— she had already deemed most of the bachelors in the city “not it.”
When had she started playing that game? And what brought it on?
“Are you even listening?” He asked. She hadn’t been. She forgot she had been on the phone.
“I’m still here,” she offered. He continued mapping out her selfishness, which was odd––she concocted the blueprint, listening to the execution was a bore.
Her mind’s eye flipped through time, as she began to picture herself in different phases, alongside various boys. In high school she managed to like each of her two boyfriends for months on end; in middle school infatuations carried over multiple seasons. What was so hard about making someone it? Why weren’t any of them sticking? In elementary school tag was often a game of choice, and you would run full speed, to what felt like the ends of the earth, or the soccer field, to not be “it.” Being it meant you were the bad guy, the monster, the one everyone tried to get away from. Was she still running? If one of these guys managed to grab her, who would she become? What was the danger in someone catching up?
“Well it appears we have come to that part of the conversation where you disappear, so I’m gonna go.”
“Huh? Oh right, sorry. You have to go? Okay I understand” she shook herself from the self-inquisition.
“Where do you go when you do that?”
“The other side of the street.”
“What?!” She got the sense his mouth had aggressively thrown that one at her.
“Look, we can keep discussing this, but I don’t disagree with you. Yes, I’m selfish, and I have every right to be. I like my life how I like it, I understand if that doesn’t work for you, but I’m not interested in compromise.”
“Don’t use words you don’t understand” he spat, knowing full well her eyes would be half way around their sphere by now.
“I can hear your eye’s rolling,” he said. They both sat in the anything but empty space of quiet. Sitting on the edge of his bed, praying for a response; she standing in front of the street facing window, watching a Suit attempt to keep his tie from frolicking in the wind with the leaves.
“Sweetie you don’t need someone who is more fleeting than fall” she mumbled.
Though no one was on the line, she forgot to take the phone from her ear. Stuck in her stance, eyes resting on the window pane, mesmerized by the exact point where the paint started to crack. The origin of a crack, how had it started? What made the paint break away from itself and tear off, slowly disintegrating atop the sill. Who bumped the window? Or slammed it down with little care? Where had her tear began? And could she glue the edges back together?
Four hours later, the wind calmed, and outside was calling. Pulling on her boots of self destruction, grabbing a coat, she left the apartment with little concern of destination. It’s nice to be alone, she thought. Particularly when no one is asking or wondering why you don’t want to hang out. When did being alone become so taboo? And when did everyone stop partaking?
“Need anything?” She called to her roommate as she opened the front door. Ha! Who is selfish now? She waited ten seconds, and when no response was given, she stepped out and locked the door. Letting out a giant sigh, she felt free. Sure she liked spending time with him, but every time he asked to hang out, and she had plans of staying in, she felt trapped. Didn’t he ever want to be alone? Arriving at the front gate as a poodle stopped to pee on it, she caught eyes with the owner. “Hi,” she mouthed, or so she surmised, she was never sure if the sound actually came out when she had headphones in. The woman nodded and pulled the dog away so she could exit.
Take me on a journey, she thought to herself, as she quickly crossed the street. Passing the shoppers, walkers, stalkers, and tourists, she felt comforted by the emptiness at her side. Sure she enjoyed strolling with others, but there was something about the free-for-all joviality she felt when there was no destination in mind and it didn’t have to be discussed. Turning a corner she noticed Coit tower peering out over the top of a break in the sky line. Sure, why not.
North Beach was always a funny place to her. It was one of the few places she could still go that made the city feel new. With little time spent here, it encapsulated the first few months she lived here. Not that she came here then, but that feeling of fresh air, of not knowing exactly what each street corner looked like, and being able to gaze up at the houses knowing she had never seen them before. It made her feel like she was in Europe, jaunting on cobble stones her feet had never laid soles on. Almost like time stopped on this edge of the city. As she reached the park below the tower, she put her hands up on a fence as she pressed her nose through the linked wires, Angel Island looking stern and forlorn in the distance. This city being so full of new: new towers, new people, new apps, new techies, new money, it was easy to forget how close we were to stories and realities of the past.
Angel Island now a quick skip across the water, a stomping ground for field-trips, day offs, and wanderers, and yet a mere seventy seven years ago the land held community leaders, journalists, ministers, farmers, photographers, or as the U.S. deemed them: “enemy aliens.” What must it have been like to look through the barracks, look back on the city, and feel completely helpless. And here she stood, looking back at Angel Island, with anywhere to go, anyone to be, and what? What did she have to show for it?
She once heard that immigrants who couldn’t pay for the final leg of the trip across the bay, who couldn’t make it past Angel Island, were held there for weeks on end. With no money to move forward, and none to move back, they were quarantined on an island of stagnation. In an effort to escape, men would place chop sticks in their nasal cavities, and then bang their head against the concrete walls. A quick escape, as the chopsticks entered their brain, waving the white flag. She thought about this every time she looked upon the quaint island, or used chop sticks. It’s odd what becomes a tool for exiting when one is stuck. It’s actually quite amazing. Who figured that out first? And how did they pass on the news? Others must have had to be present, or told before hand? She imagined it was efficient and effective. Rarely having chopsticks on hand, her tool of choice was a slow disintegration. Texts stopped being responded to, confirmed plans harder to come by, a void was meticulously placed where there had previously been none. Saying the words “I’m just not into you,” or “you are not it” felt mean. But was the slow disappearance any better? “This is the point where I would stick chopsticks in my nose.” They wouldn’t get it.
For one whose words came so easily, in matters of lust and heart she was forced to chase them. Why did they elude her? Well, the question was ridiculous. She knew. It was the same fight she had been having for years, and still it was unclear who to listen to: gut and intuition, or brain and critical judgements. What kept her from them? The knowing it wasn’t right, or critical observations that left them on the outskirts, not worthy of entry? When did this club become so god damn exclusive? And who was the bouncer?
Walking down the hill from Coit Tower, making her way to China town, she relished the sudden bustle. Where were all these people going? Who was going to buy the hanging carcasses? Would they be eaten for dinner? Or boiled for days? What was in the way of falling for a guy? The questions streamlined the wandering, unable to answer, unable to stop. She wanted to be alone, but with someone. To feel as comfortable and true as she did when no one else was there. How could one maintain alone, and lie next to someone? How did one create space for another, without taking away their own? What would someone have to do to make it past the preliminaries? And what could she take responsibility for?
All of it. And she knew that. But how? Unsure of which voices to tune in and which to tune out, keeping or letting a guy go was a gamble. Did she really not like them? Or was this her heart and mind’s effort of keeping all else out? As a child she had hung a cardboard poster beside her door, which in all caps read: NO BOYS ALLOWED. GIRLS WHEN PROVEN INNOCENT. At five she had discovered Law and Order, and while her brothers begged for Barney, she would immediately click back to the cops, lawyers, thieves, and cheaters. It wasn’t the show that left her intrigued, but the words she would steal from it. She was impressed with the reaction she got when using what she heard on teachers, parents, and counselors. Throwing in a Miranda Law when told to brush her teeth, or demanding a lawyer when the kindergarten teacher asked where her show-and-tell was, caused a wide eyed look from grown ups she was extremely fond of.
Had she written the sign in blood, why did it still ring true? Imagining the era it must have come down, she wished she had burned it. In an attempt to scare her brothers away, had she instilled a lifetime law? As Grant Street tipped, pouring its walkers out near Union Square, she was intrigued by the fluorescent lights of the shops that were filled to the brim with everything imaginable one could break. Peering in, she wondered who had the balls to walk into that store, and how often was something sold? The gigantic animals had been there for the entirety of the seven years she lived in this city. Did the price ever go down? What did all the animals do at night? She positioned herself in the safest place, right outside. Knowing she was incapable of being steady and straight, walking in and perusing was far too dangerous to attempt. Seeing all the glass, the marble, the many ledges and edges she might jolt. Sometimes I feel like I have to tip toe around you, even while laying in bed. The memory of her bedroom at dawn floated through her peripherals. Having scooted to the edge of the bed, having no where else to go, stuck in company.
As she backed away from the store of time bombs and land mines she noticed a bright red sign in the door front: Warning. That’s all just a Warning. So the potential victim can take a left and save breath, and avoid you sober and upset in the morning.