Halloween, 2006, 9:00pm
I live in Harlem. To be exact, I live in Upper Harlem, though I had never known that to be a specific Manhattan neighborhood. It’s been three days and here I am on the third night writing these words, trying to write myself out of this room, out of this neighborhood, out of this moment of my life and into the next one. Before this becomes the last moment of my life.
I should warn you at this point that I have a flair for the dramatic as well as the poetic, but also for the truth, and so to the best of my ability, and as colorfully as I can, I will try to show you where I am, when I am, and how I came to be here. I don’t flatter myself to think that you’re actually interested in the details, but then that’s why I write, namely so I don’t have to see the expression on your face. If you never read a word past this one, I’ll never know, and don’t flatter yourself thinking that I’m writing this just for you.
My room is decently sized by New York City standards. I’ve got a big closet, a bundle of hangers upon which hang my paltry two pairs of work pants, one pair of grubby pants, and two button down shirts. On the shelf above that, the rest of my clothes: five tees, five boybeaters, three ties, two dress shirts still in their packaging, five pairs of socks (two with holes in them), ten pairs of underwear, two long-sleeve tees, one pair of dress shoes (purchased at the salvation army for $7 a decade ago), one Bounce dryer sheet, and a spare king-size pillowcase. In the corner on the floor is a small, red suitcase with wheels, the kind that should never be allowed to be a carry-on, but always is.
The bed is a full-size squeaky thing, with king size sheets that are anything but fitted. I went out today and bought a comforter ($11.90 plus tax) because the ratty one that my brother gave me has random hairs poking out of it, which is just too depressing. I’ve got two large windows which open to street level – 149th street, between Fredrick Douglass and Adam Clayton – bars on one, a locked gate on the other. A wobbly table has my backpack on it, files with unfinished scripts, a notebook of job possibilities, a table fan still in the box, and a can of Raid. There’s a small fridge in the room, but the floor buckles so it’s hard to get open without leaning it backwards first. There’s a giant bureau, and my bathroom stuff is in the top drawer. I haven’t looked in the other drawers. I’m kind of scared to. There’s also a Swiffer leaning up against the wall. I think I’m supposed to return it to my “landlord” but I haven’t yet. The room, to look at, is clean. I’ve Raided it, and that’s the first thing you smell when you walk in. My cell phone, my only contact with the outside world, only works if I perch off the end of the bed with my elbows on the window ledge, and even then, it cuts out sometimes.
During the daytime, this humble abode is adequate. Enough light comes through the closed screens that you can tell life exists outside of this room. At night, I wonder if people peek through the gap at the bottom and watch me sitting on my bed and staring straight ahead. I do that sometimes. I also have a water bottle on the table. There are about two swallows left so I have to make that last until tomorrow. Oh, and there’s a TV on top of the bureau. All in all, just like a little motel room.
I have access to the bathroom. I can use the kitchen if I clean everything afterwards. The rest of the place is off-limits. My landlord’s name is Rafael. This is his apartment and I rent out a room for $125 per week, payable in cash on Saturdays. He doesn’t speak much English; I don’t speak much Spanish. And this is where I live now.
I have this fear that this where I will die.
At night it’s a bit like a cell. I sit on my bed, listless. I can’t bring myself to re-write my scripts. I can’t bring myself to do much of anything except wonder if the three cigarettes I’ve had in the last five days means that after a year and a half, I have failed at quitting smoking again. I feel that I am failing at Life in general, though, and the little failures kind of pale in comparison. I think about who I could call, and the obvious choice is E., my Life Love, who now lives five hours away. Don’t get me wrong, we haven’t split up or anything. She has grad school in DC and I have a career in theater here in NYC. If I give up my dreams, my prospects, my momentum, to live with her in DC, I might resent her later and so here I am. And if I give up my Life because I’m alone and scared and want to die, she would resent me… and so here I am. I could call her, but then what would that accomplish? She’d feel helpless and that’s a burdensome feeling. And I am losing my ability to fake it.
I have no access to internet here. If I did, I could while away the hours watching porn online and masturbating. It’s a bit of an addiction, but it passes the time. I have a clock radio, and TV, and the feeling that I am somehow repeating a pattern and if I don’t make it through to the other side, then I will return again to this awful place. “What you resist, persists,” or so I’ve read. So instead of secretly hoping that somehow I will be rescued from this place, I have decided to embrace this place, and so that’s what these words are. Me trying to embrace this moment in my life. Maybe if I hug the life out of it, it will slink away to be replaced by happiness, success and E. in my bed again.
And this is what I think precipitated this moment in Upper Harlem: My parents hate me again (admittedly a hate that hides their warped and conditional love for me), and because they hate me, I think maybe I should hate me as well. And my brother, the other family member in NYC, doesn’t hate me, but I don’t think he loves me. And if he does love me, what he considers love and what I consider love are not the same things. I have an aunt, too, who lives in Hoboken. My parents are livid that I don’t have a job yet, though five months have passed since I graduated with my MFA. And if I don’t get a job soon, they will cut off my health insurance and I’ll be on my own. It’s true, I asked them to pay for my health insurance until I got a job, because, well, without my medication I’ll probably die. What’s more ironic is that my parents are both retired doctors.
Now I’ve had a lot of therapy in my life and I can say that they’re threat to cut off my health insurance is an aggressive act. One might even say violent since it could result in my death. But then again, the fact that I’ve picked up a cigarette three times in five days is also pretty violent. I am stabbing myself in the lungs. This may seem a dramatic rendition of events, but only if you haven’t experienced intensive psychotherapy with a trained professional.
So here I am. Today. Now. And if it’s true that what you resist does indeed persist, then I would like to stop resisting this moment. I declare that as of this moment, I cease the desire to be rescued from this room. I am not just biding my time until the helicopters appear over head and drop down a harness for me to strap myself into; I expect no airlifts to safety. This is where I live for this moment, and for however long this moment lasts. Work will come tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then the next tomorrow. People are lining up to call me in for interviews because they know that I am valuable and talented and they want to hire me to do something good in this world.
And this feeling of wanting to run home to god this minute, to curl up in her lap, and never again having to doubt his love because I doubt my own… this is no longer my reality. By the sheer force of my will, tomorrow will be different.
Please, Universe, conspire to make this true.
And P.S., dear Universe, please do something about this acne, too; it makes my face hurt.