Happiness has its own weight

It might have been different had I arrived in the summer.

The city is a different island in the summertime, open, clear-skied and brilliant blue to the edges. Even the mucky shore-water out at Rockaway lightens itself, can almost be seen through if you open your eyes before a wave breaks and pulls you into the swirl. Summer here is dresses and sleeves shorter, legs leaner, drinks clinking earlier in the day, the days themselves longer, stretching out like Amsterdam, an avenue of sunlight, headed toward whatever comes next. Had I arrived here in the summer, I might have walked that line for longer, gotten far enough away. But I arrived late in the fall. The season of contracted light, of colors leaching. I arrived tilted away from the sun, and by the time winter came I had forgotten what it felt like to be warm. Forgotten sun slicking down my shoulders, sweat pooling in the creases of my skin, that ribbon of salt and water to be washed off in cool showers, before it wraps around you all over again.

There is a girl in Sheep Meadow, she’s sitting on the edge of a checkered blanket, feet bare and tucked beneath her. She looks expectant, waiting. The group of young men she sits with talk fast, easy, conversations bouncing over invisible nets, a volley and return of words, punctuated by laughter and exclamation. She is part of this, but to the side, a decoration. Unknown, but invited. Knowing the boy in the middle the longest – three, four days now, since they started talking at the laundromat, she not knowing how to get the coins to load, and he, extracting her newness, offering a thin line of friendship and his number – Come! It’s just some friends and some food in the park. They’ll all love your accent, darling. His boyfriend duly playing the part, asking her to say particular words over and again. Clapping at her vowels, rolling off the picnic blanket in a kind of mocking kindness before pouring warm white wine into her plastic cup – Ching Ching, darling! –  and telling her his own stories of the day and his life. There can be such quick intimacy to strangers. She discovers he is a hairdresser for that famous actress, and no he can’t share any secrets, but yes, that rumor really is true – it’s always true, darling! and she sips at her warm wine, smiling at her life, here, right now, in this fading light. She brought cantaloupe, diced in a plastic cup, and purple grapes, and a oversize bag of potato chips. Someone made brownies, set them out in the middle of the blanket as an offer, the residue under her fingernails now, she picks at the chocolate with her teeth, unable to say, perhaps not even knowing, how much she craves the taste of something home-made. Someone turns up music through a tinny phone speaker, Stevie Wonder becomes their soundtrack as the group passes around a joint, the weed packed tight into a ceramic cigarette. Flimsy disguise, barely a nod, as the distinctive smell wafts to other blankets, other picnics in this dusky park.

She got lost on the way here, mixed up her lakes, but she knows she’ll find her way home. It’s always easier to find your way back, but there’s something thrilling about getting lost she thinks, as she stands up and begins to dance to the familiar music, joining her new friends in their loose-limbed celebration. She can taste the weed in the back of her throat, feel her tongue go thick with it, and she’s happier than she might have ever been, with her new friends whose names she can’t remember, and their stories, and her welcoming. She hitches her flowing dress into the seams of her underwear, exposes her thighs and dances the sun all the way down the sky, twirling with him, and him, and by herself, in all this open space that she could never have imagined existed until now.

When, one by one, her new friends peel themselves away, heading off to clubs and bars and other people’s parties, she kisses them on both cheeks with each farewell, laughs and promises to come see their show, or be there next Thursday or Wednesday for dinner. Soon, she will be the only one left, and the night is pushing down on her skin, so she says goodbye herself, hugs her oldest new friend and then hugs him again as Isn’t She Lovely serenades her out and away from the meadow. Once she’s out of site, she starts to run, arms open, pulling her dress free of where she has hitched it. As it comes loose, her finger slices through the fine fabric below her hip, causing a jagged hole that she will later paste with clear nail polish, trying to prevent the tear in her dress from spreading. She will come to love this flaw and this memory of running and the high sweetness of harmonicas chasing her home. It is a hot summer night, and she emerges from the park breathless and dizzy from the wine and the weed and the newness of her life. The sky is inky now, and it seems to make everything heavier, closer somehow. This is the first time she understands that happiness has its own weight, too. That you can be thick with it, no different from sadness. She stands on the liminal in this moment, as wide awake as she has ever been, and sure this feeling is endless, a wide open breach into possibility.

She makes it to her neighborhood, feels for the first time that she fits in this place. Belongs. And I think, perhaps, had I arrived in summer, this girl would have been me.

~ Alice, What We Have Left


I was saturated with wine and Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler when I wrote this.

The girl, of course, is me 😉

Central Park Summer Days


The narrowing of distance

I mean, can you imagine? That a place can feel like a person? That a place can talk and sing, and make you feel that same bubbling under the skin that a lover can when you’re just one corner away from meeting? I love that feeling. That sort of pleasurable terror at what’s to come. He made me feel like that. Like this. But! This is a city of sensation, and I can push away those sad feelings, those reminder feelings, just by going for a walk somewhere new. I walk like some people drink, I suppose. Too early, too late, until my head is spinning with everything I’m forgetting.

I never expected to be happy.

Carl bought me a pair of sneakers. I came home and they were there in a box on my bed, the sticker with the price scratched off, so only the .99 part was left. Purple, thick-soled, smelling of rubber and dye, and so much newness. My size, too. It was like sliding my feet into the future. Into all the possibility ahead. That’s what I felt, and I may have cried a little, but I didn’t tell Carl that, or say thank you, because I’m learning he doesn’t like that kind of thing. I just wrote out another I.O.U on our post-it pad, and stuck it on the fridge door. They’re layered on top of each other now, all the little notes, and I don’t know if he ever looks, but there are a couple I’ve snuck into the pile that just say – Friendship. Or Loyalty. Things like that.

The things I can pay back sometime.

I’ll be 25 one day. And 30 and 40. By then I will have accumulated so much, and I’ll buy Carl a farm, or an animal shelter, or a farm that is an animal shelter, somewhere in upstate New York, where I’ve never been, but people go, and I think it must be beautiful there. I haven’t put that on a post-it note, though. I’ll keep it as a surprise for Carl one day.

I have Carl, and I have my sneakers, and my camera. And I have this place. This city that runs in straight lines and sprawls, so you can’t ever get too comfortable with one or the other. Sometimes, when I’m crossing the street up here, I stop in the middle and look both ways, just to see the avenues run on in either direction. I love the perfect lines they make, the narrowing of distance to something you can see, understand. But I ventured further south yesterday, and one street turned into another, right under my feet, no warning, just a little veer to the right, and I wasn’t where I was before. That happens a lot, too.

It’s amazing how little I mind getting lost.

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures on my walks. People sometimes, but the city mostly. Like I said, a place can feel like a person. Sometimes more like a person than the strangers blurring past in their sneakers and suits. I do not like this by the way. The quick legs and stiff arms of people in a hurry. I do not like the way they look unfinished. When I am 25 and 30 and 40, I will not wear a pencil skirt and sneakers. I will learn to stride along in lovely heels, or maybe never wear pencil skirts at all. This is something I haven’t yet decided.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Just 500 words, someone reminded me. So I wrote these 580 or so before breakfast. I may even keep a sentence or two, ha.


The corners of her name

That’s Jane, and she’s polite and she fits right into the corners of her name, and it isn’t my name.

It isn’t my name.

I want my name back. I want the news stories to say that Alice Liddell was a girl who lived in New York City, and she was just starting to fit into the corners of her own name, her own life. Alice Liddell was 18 years old, and she had long blonde hair that her lover used wrap around his fingers, forcing her neck back so he could bear down on her skin with his teeth. Alice Liddell loved that, and she loved taking photographs with the camera she stole, and she was starting to love Walter and his quiet kindness, and she loved the Chrysler Building, no matter how many times she saw it.

Alice Liddell was someone who missed her best friend Tammy, and once, when she was six, a man pulled up in front of her house and tried to get her into his blue car, beckoning from the driver’s seat, saying he had a special secret to share. Alice Liddell was the girl who froze for a full minute before she ran inside, and she was the girl who never told anyone about that minute and that man in the blue car, ever.

This was Alice Liddell. She never broke any bones and her teeth were straight and strong, and her mother was murdered, and so was she. Not the same way, but not so differently, either. She liked fish tacos and fairy lights and hated the taste of licorice. She hadn’t read nearly enough books yet, and she was busy falling in love with the world, when she was yanked right out of it.

Time’s up. Is that what he said to her, just before? Or during? There were sounds he made that she couldn’t hear, wouldn’t hear, but she’d made him angry, hadn’t she. By not answering his question. She froze instead, just like that day when the strange man in his blue car tried to tell her a secret. She knew not to go toward him, could smell the danger between them, but for a full minute, she forgot how to move. And this time, she remembered too late.


Drafting, drafting, drafting. Alice is my new Lucy. The secondary character who has stolen the whole story. Maybe it’s because she thinks/speaks in run-on sentences, just like I do 😉

What I have taken

I don’t know when the idea first occurred to me. To come here. I suppose it could be the stories my mom used to tell me. They must have been lingering around, in that way certain memories might seem forgotten, but really, they’re right there waiting, and some day something or someone happens to push that memory front and center, as if you have been remembering it all along.

Maybe that’s what this was at first. A kind of pull toward my mother, to the city she always dreamt of. Or it could be that I haven’t been able to shake off Mr. Jackson yet, that the pull is toward him, toward the version of him who lived here first, and I want to go back to that time before me, and find him. Or maybe – the exact opposite. Maybe I want to be equal to him, to best him, after what he did to me. I want to do what he did, and prove that I can survive on my own. Now that he has cast me out.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just looking for a horizon. Maybe I’m just looking for something to look at. After all of that looking at me.

I reach inside my bag, swing it to the front of my hip for safety. It’s still there, his Leica M6. I run my fingers over the raised metal and the smooth round of the lens. I don’t know why I need this proof. I’ve been feeling the weight of it this whole journey, the heavy bump and knock against my thigh. It is not as if the camera could have suddenly disappeared from inside my bag, but I need to feel that it’s there just the same. This is what I have. This is what I have brought with me, and it is a small triumph to know that he will soon realise what I have taken from him. If he does not miss me he will at least miss the way he used to look at me.

Everyone’s lost something, Alice.

Isn’t that what he told me just the other day.

~ Alice,  What We Have Left


In the end

I broke what we had, and it’s our love that is in fragments. So what if a piece or two stayed lodged in our hearts. That’s more like a wound than love, in the end.

In the end.

When do you get to the end of love? The moment it breaks apart? Or is that just another beginning? I don’t know anything. Or I know this. My love for Ash has been revived like some Frankenstein’s monster, a gross, distorted version of what it was before. A version where I break up his family, take him from his child, from the friends who wouldn’t choose his happiness this time, because they wouldn’t trust it, wouldn’t trust me. That version, the one I’ve cobbled together since we met up again – at a bar not unlike this one, come to think – that version is why I had to leave, and why I am more alone than ever, here in this never-sleeping city.

In the end.

In the end, you can’t get back what you’ve lost. You can’t bring back the dead. There is a girl who died today, and I don’t even know her name. I will need the police or the papers to tell me. I will need them to tell me the way she died. Even though I was the one who made it real, even though I was the one who finished whatever was started last night, or this morning, when someone smashed in her skull, when they left her on the rocks, half-naked and waiting.

I need another whiskey. I can see her face. I know she wants to tell me something. I know she has something to say about all there is to lose – in the end.

I head back to the bar, passing the nuzzling, love-soaked couple and their shared couch cushion. Wanting, suddenly, to stop and tell them that I’m so very sorry for everything that will surely come their way.

~ Elliott, Into the After


Most everybody knows

People die every day. In minutes. Seconds. The closing and re-opening of an eye, and the world changes direction, spins you or him or her away. Out into the nothing or everything, and not here. Not here ever again.

In New York alone, 150 lights go out from one midnight to the next. Cancer, cars, trains, swimming pools. A bottle of pills, or a fall the wrong way. There is some kind of sorrow every second.

Back in the 90’s, there were up to six murders a day. A decade later, and that number dropped down to two. Now, sometimes a whole week goes by without someone dying at another person’s hand. Still, it happens. Strangers, and vigilantes, and lovers with twisted hearts. More often than not, the twisted hearts. Turns out most everybody knows the person who kills them. A fact we close our eyes to when we do our choosing.

Did you know the person who took your life? The one who took your name, and your story, the one who left your body for me to find?

Are we any safer, Jane, with our lit streets and windows barred? Or are we only ever one opened door away from the dark?

I don’t know who to be afraid of, here.

Grand Central, New York

A place like this

Chewed up. Spit out. That’s what they say about girls like me. In a place like this.

As if the city has jaws. Great, chomping concrete jaws that bite down on new flesh, and then, disgusted at the freshness, spew it back out. As if the streets are littered with lacerated hearts, with open wounds and cardboard stories.

They say I’m bound for such corners. For coffee cups and copper coins, and no way of getting home. But I know it’s the small towns that kill you. I know who takes bite after bite.

Home is where they feast on girls like me. A place like this just might save me.

NYC Walk

~ Alice, Into the After