In Which When It Happens We Have Already Slipped Out

photo by thomas bollier

Heavy Sleeper

by MAUREEN O’BRIEN

I’m not telling the whole story. There are intentions to which I am blind, which have almost certainly dictated that certain parts of the truth have been be occluded. I can’t tell you which parts, because I am engaged in hiding them from myself. So I’ll tell a story as if it were true, and hopefully it will hold together by some mutual tensions of its component parts.

Pete and I met early in the school year at a party. It was cold for October, but the room was so warm that the windows dripped with condensation like the walls of a shower. I can remember noticing his body first, seductive with a drumming energy.

“Good evening.” His teeth were surprisingly white for a musician, and square. His hooded drunk eyes slipped open and closed around the room until they landed on me.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I know you,” I replied. It was a lie; I saw him almost everyday in the back of the library. McGill had a strict no-shoes policy to protect the library’s wooden floors, and I blushed, realizing that I even recognized the socks he was standing in now.  “And what’s the story with the dog tags? Are you planning on dying in battle?”

“If I die, it will be doing my duty, baby.” He swung a leg over the top of the grubby couch and climbed down next to me. The corroding leather sagged and our bodies edged together. I breathed in his smell –  nicotine and old spice.

“I’ll tell you what though,” he smiled at me with those big white teeth. “I’m bored to death here.”

That night I felt so alive I could barely breathe. We left the party together and he kissed me hard in the bitter winter cold. I wanted more of him, and had to fight a compulsion to scream. As he unlocked his door I tried to slow my breathing. Entering the tight stairwell, a wave of heat rose from his body in front of me on the stairs. Shadows fell over us as we wrestled in the darkness. Mystery made me hungry and my hands reached for every torrid part of him, felt the weight of him, untamed and rapacious. His dog tags swung from his neck and the cold metal hit my lips. I grabbed a hold of them, pulling him closer. My sense of time and space refracted, and everything collapsed into this minute.

photo by thomas bollier

I woke up to the taste of metal in my mouth. I was jarringly sober and naked, breathing in the unfamiliar smell of his apartment, moist, sultry and far from fresh. He stirred and I slowed my breathing, allowing only my eyes to slit back and forth. Who was this man? His bedroom didn’t tell much. A basement apartment, it was claustrophobic and sunken, with a tiny window above the bed that looked out onto the ankles of passersby. His bedside table hosted an array of things and I began to conjure up an idea of him. This was a man who chewed spearmint gum, and had a sewing kit. He owned an antique portrait of a woman propped up on the floor next to crumpled up athletic shorts. He read Descartes in French, and bookmarked passages with guitar pics. He was also a heavy sleeper, indifferent as I slunk out of the bottom of the bed against the wall. As I tiptoed up the stairs, giddy from my escape, I began to piece together the night. Unwittingly, I’d already started crafting a story.

I woke up beside him the next night, and the night after. Everything about this romance felt novel, and Pete glistened with newness. I was obsessed with the way that I must look to him, and would glance at myself in windows as we walked together to try and see what he saw. I loved the way he said my name. His voice had an exotic color, not the flat metallic tone of the Great Lakes, with it’s clear hard r’s and absence of theatricality.

It was cold out now, the bitter cold of a Montreal winter. I stood in his doorway peeling off layers covered in snow, and dumped my boots in the corner. Pete strode over and pulled out a clear plastic baggie. “You wanna?” He placed two white pills onto my palm. Asking what they were would only reveal my innocence, so instead I looked into his beautiful bright eyes and swallowed them down without hesitating. He laughed and kissed me. “You have to come see our new strobe light.”

photo by thomas bollier

I sprawled out upside down on his roommate’s bed, my arms cactused out and blood rushing to my head. Blue pink and purple lights rushed across the ceiling. I had started to feel a great pull on my heart, as though gravity had taken a hold of it, but didn’t stop with a gentle downward force. It pulled in all directions, leaving me paralyzed. Where was Pete? He’d disappeared and I needed him. I was starting to panic, and even with my eyes squeezed closed I couldn’t turn off the swirling lights. I opened my eyes and watched their pattern unfold above me, trying to make out voices above the booming techno. Then his face appeared above me. He sat down cross legged and cradled my head upside down in his lap. From this angle, I noticed a nick under his chin from a razor, and could smell the cigarettes on his worn in jeans. “Kiss me,” he said, and I flipped over onto my belly. I closed my eyes and pressed my lips to his. They felt so perfect, so smooth, I almost couldn’t stand it. This was an impossible world I’d entered, in which I could give everything I had to him, but lost nothing of myself.

It was a winter of firsts: first high, first quiet come down, first pull of addiction, first love, first impassioned goodbye. Falling in love is spectacular, so much so that it necessitates a rapt consciousness. I was so busy jumping, falling, diving into Pete that I forgot to notice him, his lifetime of sorrows and beautiful triumphs. My memories of those months exist inside a teacup amusement ride; I’m sitting on the ride in focus, and he’s somewhere out there, a blur.

I think I remember the moment when things started to go south, but I can’t be sure.

“I know how to tell a joke,” Pete says absentmindedly. “You can’t telegraph the laugh.”

“What’s the joke?” I ask.

“That was the joke. You didn’t get it?”

“What was?”

He sighs.

Years later, I have a longing for truth. If only, for a moment, I’d thought to step off the roller coaster. As irony would have it, it is far too late in the story for that sort of transience. Instead, I’m left with the worn out stories I’ve reimagined too many times. What would the first layer of the palimpsest look like, before time and fantasy pressed out the creases?  There are the things I definitely remember. These are usually brought on by something sensual, and I’m transported through a perception time-warp. Late for work, eating eggs over the frying pan in my kitchen, I recall the morning we went out for breakfast at 2 p.m. after staying up all night.  I wanted to leap across the table and push my face hard into his, consume him. Instead, I piled both my eggs onto a piece of toast and shoved them into my mouth. I can still call to mind the feeling of the yolks breaking open in my mouth. Memory is like that – it conceals with a great nonchalance until suddenly, standing over a hot skillet, you are struck with deep loss.

photo by thomas bollier

Then, there are things that I think I remember, like the way his wallet fit in his back pocket, or the sheen of sweat across his brow that gave him a look of aliveness. I sort of remember how I used to try and walk on the lower side of the sidewalk so that he would be slightly taller than me. Did Pete actually like Mark Lanegan, or am I confused because it is on a playlist I titled “Thinking of Pete.” I think I remember that we had a beautiful thing, whatever it was, before it went cold and I was alone again.

Finally, there are things that I can’t remember at all. Squeezing my eyes closed, I try to picture him. Colors swirl and expand on the backs of my lids, muddling the outline. I can’t stretch out a face shape, or the perfect fine hairs that caught the sun as they turned. When we lose someone we lose the color of their lips, the way lashes curl around bright curious eyes. I feel my memories jumbling, thickening, my mind sagging with the effort, growing old by the second. I look down at my hands as I ride the subway. They curl in my lap like empty flower pots. I think about how they once held his broad shoulders, felt the blood pump in his temples as I drew him closer.

When we tell stories, do we agree to trade fictions that both of us know – with a strategically suspended knowledge – to be fictions; and is that enough? If histories are built on distortions and lapses, accounts of the past that we pack away without the messiness, are we destined to step into the same river twice? The great irony, of course, that in this sea of fictions there is only one ending we can rely on: death. It is the only thing in this world that is objectively true.

Maureen O’Brien is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She twitters here and you can find her blog here. She last wrote in these pages about her time in Mexico.

Photographs by Thomas Bollier.

“The Wild People” – Mark Lanegan (mp3)

“Judgement Time” – Mark Lanegan (mp3)

In Which They Write To Us From Someplace

This is the second in a series. You can find the first part here.

photo by jun hongh

The Other Inbox

by MIA NGUYEN

The act of writing a letter, or even receiving one in the mail, has become almost obsolete in an age where technology has taken over the majority of our precious time. These last years I found myself being drained from the lack of romanticism in receiving empty e-mails and text messages. I wanted something to hold onto.

In 2011 I started exchanging handwritten letters with strangers online, incubating long distance friendships. The intimate exchange of handwritten letters lets me connect authentically and compassionately with others on a level to which we are no longer accustomed.

Dear M,

I am writing you this letter with both fear and excitement. The pressure to be witty is at its strongest rigor, but yet it’s difficult for me to contain my excitement?!

Currently: sitting with my cat and eating my earthquake emergency supply food in case you wanted to check up on my well-being. It’s near five in the morning and, as usual, I can’t sleep. I’m sure by now you’re awake! Running and being productive as I sit on my ass.

Sincerely,

D

Dear Mama Mia,

I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you over break, I think I need to accept the fact that I live in CT now. I’ve got roots here and it’s hard to come home. Regardless, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas with your family!! I miss you soooo much!

I’m going through a really hard time right now with Adam :( Right before Christmas I felt weird about us and felt like we were changing. I hate saying it, but I felt like the more desired one at the beginning and use to try so hard, now I feel like the one who shows all this affection and am constantly waiting for applause. I didn’t want to ruin the holidays, but I finally couldn’t hold it in any longer. We discussed everything and I felt better, but I still felt like he didn’t respect why I was upset.

Recently we got in a little spat that started over a stupid comment, this led to a 5 a.m. argument, which we finally resolved. However, once again there wasn’t really a compromise on his part, just an agree to disagree.

The following day however he asked me via text how I felt about our “discussion.” I basically summed up my feelings about everything.

I’ve been too scared to say it, but I really love him. You know how long it takes me to be comfortable with a guy and I’m really scared. I do want us to work out, but at the same time maybe are are too different and want different things.

I know you just broke up with your boyfriend, and even though it wasn’t your first I know it was really hard for you. But if you could give me some advice I could really use it. I’m scared, and I love him and I’m afraid he doesn’t love me as much I love him. But it’s not that I’m scared to be alone. I’m afraid I won’t find someone who will wait for me to be comfortable with them before starting a relationship. I’m just scared.

Anyways I really hope you are well and feeling better. Good luck next semester! Miss you tons!!!

Love,

V

M,

I got your letter a few days ago, but its taken me some time to respond. I don’t know if it’s been a lot going on or I simply can’t motivate myself or what, but I’m taking some time to write.

This Newtown shooting is horrendous. I can’t imagine the impact it has had on the community. Those poor kids who went through something like that at such a young age. And here comes the old gun control debate. I hope that this time around something will change. I think the bigger issue at hand is mental health, and also, we as a culture should reevaluate our morals and what’s important. There’s a lot of readjustment that needs to be done. With that, I’ll stop writing about it. It’s too heavy of a topic for a grey morning.

I’ve done a lot of Christmas shopping. I usually don’t, but this year I’ve done quite a bit. It’s unfortunate, but shopping for gifts gives me this weird sense of guilt and anxiety. I always feel that fundamentally, our consumer culture has it wrong, but here I am looking for deals on a pair of leather gloves my mom wants. Ugh. I just want it to be over.

Speaking of which, winter is another thing I’d like to be over (even though it hasn’t even started yet). I miss the warmth, green trees, birds, grass, sunshine. I’m really not made for New England.

My two friends from high school and I are going to hike Mt. Monadnock on Friday, “la fin du monde.” I haven’t seen them in a while, and also, hiking is just a good time.

I’m glad to hear that you’ve got an internship out in California. I hope that it goes well for you, and who knows, maybe that will be your foot in the door to a new life out on the West Coast!

I’ll close now. I’m doing my work laundry before my shift today at 11 a.m. Hooray to serving Brown professors lunch!

Your friend,

T

Dear Mia,

I loved getting your letter in the mail…much more exciting than bills! I used to have many pen pals in college before the internet and email hit the scene.

Where are you from? I don’t think we ever met. Did you ever meet my husband? He has been teaching middle school art for over 15 years, so he knows a lot of people…and many are all grown up now! It makes me feel old :)

My kids loved Halloween this year. R is 5 and went as Frankenstein and M is 3 and dressed as a princess doctor. T and I ate a lot of their candy and I suspect we won’t be getting away with that for too many more years before the kiddos notice. Did you do anything fun and exciting for Halloween?

How is the new stove? I enjoy baking. As a matter of fact I am making a spaghetti pie for dinner. Did you make anything special yet? I get most of my recipes from Pinterest. I like to cook whatever my kids will eat, which is not too much right now. R is a pretty good eater, but M is so picky.

What are your plans after graduation? I have my undergraduate in Communications & Performance and Elementary Education. I also have my Master’s in Instructional Technology. I taught for a while, but now I spend time with my two kids and managing our household. I plan to return to work when the kids are a lot older. A job will always be there, but my kids won’t be this young forever!

I am so happy you wrote and had so much fun writing you back. Although, I think my hand is cramping up…I haven’t done this much handwriting since high school! I am happy to do my part to help the post offices. Have a great day!

Sincerely,

H

Mia Nguyen is the features editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Rhode Island. You can find her website here.

Photographs by Jun Hongh.

“A Fistful of Flowers” – Zun Alak (mp3)

“Sunshine Dust” – Zun Alak (mp3)

photo by mia nguyen

In Which We Wonder Who We Were Upset With

A Date

by ALEXANDRA KIMBALL

In the spring, I moved out of the house I was sharing with my boyfriend and reunited with a longed-for ex. But that, too, was falling apart for all the reasons it had the first time, only much more quickly. I hadn’t just pressed rewind on the relationship; I’d pushed rewind and then 4X FF.

Writing marketing copy from home meant that I had all the time in the world and no money at all. In my city’s Gay Village, I signed a lease on a cheap apartment the super informed me had previously housed a family of junkies. When I moved in, I found broken glass in the kitchen sink, pink stuff around the caulking (blood?) and a bra hanging from the living room ceiling fan. It was wedged in so deep between the blades, I couldn’t dig it out even with a broom handle. Tattered, the bra swung down the center of the apartment, like a flag from some torn, but undefeated, civilization.

I had ordered a bed — my first piece of brand-new, grownup furniture — but for some reason, the delivery service was delaying. Same with the cleaning service I convinced my landlord to hire to tackle the kitchen, which still scared me. I ate Cheetos and slept wrapped in a sheet on my living room floor, like a kid at a sleepover. At 32, the last few years of my life had been a crash course in impermanence. Love, money, self-regard: I knew now that all of these were things that could be abruptly withdrawn. But closing my eyes against the hard floor, I felt the whiplash of adulthood in sudden reverse. I didn’t know maturity was fragile, too.

I wondered what, if anything, could be salvaged. On the first warm day of May, I took a break from waiting for my bed and met with Robert+ — the ex-boyfriend of ill-advised reunion fame — at a pub. “OK, let’s do it,” I said. “Let’s move in together and pick up where we left off before.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea”, he said through his pint glass. “But maybe we’ll see. I don’t know.” He shrugged — like a little boy, I thought.

I remembered the night we’d met: at a party, the same way I met everyone I wound up with. For me, love had always been the result of drunken collisions; social happenstance. Hanging out. Suddenly, it struck me as important that I’d never been on a date. Even the word “date” suggested an adult world that was alien to me as a layabout copyeditor, one of calendars and schedules; things happening at specific and prearranged times. It was a small project I felt I could handle in my disoriented state. The backwards lurch of my life — the breakups, the bra — seemed unalterable. But I wondered if changed the visuals of that life, the lingo, it could, like some optical trick, quell my vertigo.

A week later, I sat across from David at a cheap Cambodian restaurant on a busy street in the West End, trying to relate a nutshell version of my life history while figuring out why I felt so fake and nervous.

On his online dating profile, David had listed his profession as “club managor/painter” — a double violation of my stated rule against poor spelling and backslashed occupations. But in the swamp of goatees and disappointment that is Internet dating, David had stood out. His username was Important_earnest — an Oscar Wilde reference. With his dark, direct gaze and big scythe of a jaw, Important_earnest didn’t look like the good spellers I knew. Around his planar cheekbones, hair twisted in distinct black coils, like the foliage on an Art Nouveau woodcut. If he were around at the time of his namesake, the right word for him would have been “rake”. Looking at his profile, a fizzy feeling rose in my ribs. In the name of adult dating, I had been prepared to reject clever guys, funny guys, “cool” guys — anyone who reminded me of my childish exes. What I hadn’t steeled myself against were good looks.

In person, though, the fizz had gone flat. When I imagined dating, I’d pictured flirting, a slingback heel dangling from a flexed toebed; “touche”. But with David, I could barely look up from my noodles. It was amazingly awkward. I asked him things he’d already answered; he started anecdotes only to stop abruptly in mid-sentence, transfixed by some movement outside the window or something on his plate.

“I’m sorry,” he said at one point. “I still live with my ex-girlfriend.” He said this as if to explain the odd lapses in his speech. And I guess it did.

“I had a really nice time,” I said when the bill came. What I was thinking was, “that was fucking awful.”

David’s well-shaped eyebrows inverted, turning his brow into a dark, pleading wave. “Did you?” he asked. His voice was quavering. “Because I really like you. I really, really want to go on another date with you. Did you know I’ve never been on a real date?”

The carbonated feeling returned. Maybe, I thought, I didn’t need someone more mature than me, to show me how adulthood was supposed to be done. Maybe what what was called for was not tutelage, but partnership; not a guided tour, but a buddy system. Maybe growing up was something David and I could figure out together, date by uncomfortable date.

+

Dating David was difficult, not least because he lived with his ex-girlfriend, worked most nights at a hellish thumping club, and, like me, had no money. But over the next two weeks, we found our way into our own weird, broke version of the montage in a romantic comedy. We met at Canadian Tire before his noon shift and picked out a recycling bin for my apartment. At midnight, we shared a pitcher of beer on a bar patio up the street from his club. That these meetups were always at weird times, and never lasted more than a couple of hours, seemed less relevant to me than the fact that I got to call them dates.

How different the pomp and ritual of dating was from the hangouts of my past! With hanging out, love could slip out of ordinary moments without logic or warning. Dating, on the other hand, was a defined happening, a place so distinct from regular, ungrownup life it had its own language; its own rhythm and economics. To date is to give and receive clear signs: to understand that “I like you” is a heartfelt confession while “you’re pretty cool” means it’s over. It is letting him pay on the first date, but splitting the bill on the second and treating him on the third. With my exes, something like the wording of a compliment or who winds up getting the bill was ripe for misinterpretation; usually, these were signs of nothing at all. But when David told me he liked me, I knew that it meant we were moving along — or, in the patois of dateland, “connecting”. After years of ambiguous encounters, it was comforting to enter a world in which nothing could come as a real surprise. Every moment with David came pre-stamped with importance.

David liked dating too, or so he said, sitting across from me at an all-night Greek bakery, just a block down from the apartment he still shared with his ex. It was a dirty little room with metal chairs, and we were the only people in there. Still, he had ironed his t-shirt, and between us — beside the plate of baklava we were sharing — was his offering: a pretty clump of carnations in a plastic sleeve.

“This is the only thing I’ve got going on besides work,” David said, gesturing vaguely in my direction. He poked at the baklava and sighed. He told me that he’d moved and switched relationships so many times he often woke up misremembering where he was or who was sleeping beside him. “You feel like you’re moving backwards; I feel more like I’m in a Mobius strip.”

Across the table, David passed me his iPhone. A black-and-white painting of a bald woman, naked but for a black garter belt and stockings, filled the small screen.

“Just so you know, this is my real work,” he said. “Feel free to scroll through.”

I flicked through the slideshow of images with my thumb. All paintings of naked women, seen from behind or below, through parted curtains or keyholes or open doors. All in moments of undress, their heads turned; unaware they were being watched by someone just out of sight.

“They’re great,” I said, absorbed. I meant it.

“My thing is fantasy,” he said, shrugging.

“My real work is writing stories,” I confessed. It wasn’t something I liked to say out loud. “I guess my thing is fantasy, too.”

We smiled at each other — a rare moment of eye contact. Our forks hit one another as we poked at the honeyed square. With every small ding, I felt some layer — between me and David, between me and the life I wanted — flake away.

To date is to not only know what is going to happen, but how to feel about it when it does. Installed on my living room floor that night, I looked up at the ceiling and thought, “I am elated.”

To go from hanging out to dating at 32 was to enter a world that was both completely alien and completely familiar. It was the same slightly dissociative experience I had visiting Paris after years of seeing stock Paris visits on TV.: here I am at the Eiffel tower, this is me avec baguette. “I can’t, I have a date,” I’d tell people breezily, hearing myself saying it as I said it. I welcomed the feeling. This was something that might have said by a sleek, joyful woman in a razor commercial, not by a 32-year-old girl-child who couldn’t handle a simple furniture delivery. In the hours before I was due to meet David, I would comb my hair in my bedroom mirror and watched myself watching myself, getting ready for a date, infinite refractions of Woman Before Date that pushed the actual me temporarily, but blissfully, out of frame.

Spring went on, each day a little sunnier, a little more temperate, than the last, mirroring my brightening mood, making me feel buoyant and almost carefree. I got a long-overdue check for a website I’d written for a juice box company. Just back from a date with David, feeling bold, I called the line for the delivery service that had my bed.

“Twelve to fourteen business days, miss,” said the guy on the other line. He had a thick Northern Ontario accent: furteen. “Just like I told you last week.”

“Well, I just got paid, and I if you rush it, there is a cool sum of forty dollars in it for you,” I said.

He chuckled. “Yeah, it doesn’t really work like that.”

“What will make it work like that?” I asked.

“Look, miss, we’ve been back and forth about this bed for weeks now. And I’m not going to lie: I feel sorry for you. I know you want it, bad. So I’ll tell you what — I’m going to make sure your item gets out of the warehouse and on the Toronto delivery truck on Wednesday. That’s two days from now. So that would put it at your door between nine and eleven AM on Friday.”

“I can’t!” I said. “I can’t then. I have a date.” Even now, I got a thrill from saying that.

“You have a date from nine to eleven a.m. on Friday?”

“He works a night shift,” I explained.

The voice exhaled. “All right,” he said. “I’ll have the driver loop back to your neighborhood between three and five. Good?”

“Yeah,” I said, relieved. “Thank you.”

“This must be some guy you’re dating, meeting him at 9 a.m.,” he said. “Now I understand why you want this bed so bad.”

I hung up in a daze, wondering how I could have missed this. David and I had met in coffee shops and on park benches, we were dating like crazy, but not once had we even come close to having sex. Other than a few dry, on-cue goodnight kisses, our time together had been completely chaste.

In dateland, the consensus is that you should wait three dates before having sex. This is supposed to be a long, torturous delay, but David and I hadn’t even noticed. By the usual standard, we were three dates overdue.

I picked up my phone to text him, but he’d beaten me to the punch.

“Why dont we hang out @ yr place tmw?” he wrote. “I can cook.”

An uneasy feeling squirreled around inside me. “My kitchen is covered in junkie blood/glass,” I replied.

“I work @ club,” he texted back. “If I can do anything its clean up blood/brkn glass.”

+

The bed didn’t come, of course, but I refused to take that as a sign. Grownups had sex on couches, right? It was more spontaneous that way; more passionate. But that evening, as I leaned against the doorjamb of my kitchen, I watched David’s hipbones shift around the waistband of his jeans and realized I felt nothing. He was crouching over my stove, turning the knobs this way and that. The glass on the floor didn’t bother him as much as my ancient stove, he said, so he’d cleaned the burnt-up gunk out of the burner holes with a dental pick. The igniter clicked and stopped as he turned it on and off, testing the flame. I kept my eyes on his hips, trying to feel more than abstract appreciation. David was a gorgeous guy; he’d worked as a model. He’d fixed my stove, and now he was going to make me dinner. But determined as I was to sleep with him, there was nothing in the fact of him — nothing in his gestures or the way he talked, no detail in his face or physique — that made me want his body against mine.

“Well,” David said, turning to face me. He leaned back against the stove and glanced at me, bashful but expectant.

“Yeah,” I replied. I thought of our first date, the awkwardness. We’d gotten past that — could this be a first-time nervousness, too? Outside the kitchen window, the sun had become a low, orange stripe.

“We should get to the supermarket,” I said. “If we want to cook dinner.”

“For sure,” David said. “But would you mind if maybe we first smoked a joint?”

I expelled a long, grateful breath. Weed: it was a perfect idea. I’d bought wine, but this was better: it would take the edge off the nervousness, but not mess up the mechanics. It wasn’t exactly an adult move — there was nothing about cannabis in the dating lexicon — but if it would help me relax, who was counting?

David and I went into my living room, where, on my third-hand IKEA sofa (Ektorp), I watched him unpack his drugs and rolling papers and spread them out on my coffee table. He took out a shot glass and scissors and cut up the weed. Bending over the glass, he snipped away for what seemed like forever, the only noise in the room the sound of the scissors and some guys laughing on the patio of the gay bar next door. I couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t about the very meticulous way he was cutting up the weed, so I just watched the scissors open and close against the sides of the shot glass. Music, I thought. I should have put on music. Or would music just draw attention to the fact we weren’t talking?

At some point in this self-questioning, I realized I was holding the joint, and sometime either before or after that, I understood that I was high.

“Hey,” David said, turning to me. “So.”

“This is really good weed,” I giggled, but he kissed me anyway.

Around this time, it struck me that we were making out, and that his hand was under my dress, and my leg was over his knee. It was good, if only because it meant I no longer had to find things to say.

+

In my preparation for the date sex, I had bought wine and put on a black lace bralette and matching panties. But, because I was out of practice and also, I thought now, because I was an adolescent in all the ways that mattered, I had forgotten entirely about condoms. Sitting naked on my couch, I tried to figure out our options. We could go out and buy them, but that might ruin our momentum. There was no way I could do it without one (or could I?). Of course, we could not do it all, but we’d come this far, and to end a date like this would be a dramatic failure: a kid-like chickening-out. None of the options seemed to jive with my fantasy of mature grownup dating.

“There’s a drugstore across from the subway,” I said, finally.

David stood up and stretched, oblivious to the fact he was standing naked in front of an open window. “Oh,” he said dazily, “I think that one closes at 7.”

The room was dark now, and I went back and forth about whether or not it was weirder to turn on the light or to continue the conversation in blackness. There was more laughter coming from the patio up the street; vague dispatches from the world I’d left behind: hanging out, hooking up; fun. I decided we should stay in the dark.

“Do convenience stores have them?” I wondered.

“Yeah, probably,” David affirmed. “But — this is embarrassing — I haven’t gotten paid this week yet? Condoms are like, twelve dollars.”

Don’t do this, I thought, but then I was walking over to the dresser where I’d slung my purse and then I was counting a twenty out of my wallet — the juice box money I’d set aside for the groceries I’d planned to buy with David. And then I was at my living room window in the dark, watching David enter, and then exit, the yellow-awninged HastyMart across the street.

When David came back, he produced a 3-pack of “Pride Edition” Trojans: yellow, purple and green. I looked up at him, disbelieving.

“The yellow’s almost clear,” he shrugged.

“Alright,” I said, but I didn’t really care anymore. Whatever pretense of maturity David and I had been keeping up was gone; a distant mirage — as remote and fantastical as a condom box rainbow. I had almost called off the sex, but now my determination was redoubled: the damage was done, I’d be a kid forever; so I may as well get some action. Even if it was teenager style: on a couch, high, and in total silence.

+

The first time I hung out with Marcus, the guy I had been living with, we talked in a bar for four hours straight, a conversation that unfolded like the best kind of road trip, great, distance-traversing stretches that gave way to sudden, exhilarating turns and poignant moments of rest. The conversation was so absorbing we missed last call; the bartender had to kick us out. Outside, we made out in the middle of the sidewalk with such open abandon we drew honks and cheers from passing cars.

In my hurry to transcend the laissez-faire patterns of my past, I’d forgotten that I had endured them for good reasons. Excitement; vulnerability; the seismic thrill of meeting someone who, within a few moments, could crack my life in two. When my relationships were good, I didn’t get caught up on surfaces, on how things looked, because I was in the core of the things themselves. I asked myself now: what was more childish than trying to be grown-up?

+

Afterwards, David and I sat facing each other at opposite ends of the Ektorp and smoked another joint.

“Do you want to stay over?” I asked. “I have no bed.”

“I dunno,” David replied. “My ex was pretty upset last time we went out and I didn’t come back until late.”

“So you have a curfew,” I said. “Perfect.”

“Yeah,” he said neutrally.

“You know,” I remarked, “I’m starting to think this woman isn’t an ex at all.”

“I dunno,” David conceded, shrugging. “It is what it is.”

I should be outraged, I thought, I should scream and cry. But I was high, and I couldn’t get a grip on the anger. Was it even David I was upset with? I thought about my bed and the delivery guy on the phone. I thought about the fact that the next week, I’d have to write a website for a company that made instant macaroni-and-cheese. I thought about Robert breaking up with me through the bottom of a pint glass. Vaguely, and then with tremendous volume, I again heard laughter from the patio of the gay bar. Before, the voices had seemed to be making a point of everything I was missing, but now, I knew, they were laughing directly at me.

“Do you ever feel like people are laughing at you?” I heard myself say softly.

David sighed, a whorl of smoke curling around his face. “Oh man,” he said. “All the time.”

He hugged me goodbye and promised to call, though I knew we’d never talk to each other again. It was as positive a way to end things as we could have managed, I thought. There were no hard feelings. But when I turned the light on in my living room, I noticed that David hadn’t left the change from the twenty I’d given him, and he’d also pocketed the purple and green condoms.

+

Spring became summer, and the sun in my windows was bright as bleach. My mind, too, seemed clear and empty. After the drama of the spring, it wasn’t a bad feeling. I wrote the website for the macaroni and cheese company, plus some others. I understood why people talk about taking refuge in work. I stacked one dumb task on top of the previous until they became a wall around me, something through which I could see neither present nor future, forward nor back.

On the first day of the first hot week of the season, my bed arrived, a great foamy square that the big-shouldered delivery guy said couldn’t fit into my tiny bedroom.

“It’ll fit,” I urged. “Just try.” It did fit, but barely. Still, when I threw myself down on its crisscrossed surface, I realized that it didn’t matter that my bedroom was cramped. Only I had to see it, and I didn’t care.

“It’s getting hot in here,” the guy said as he left, and reached up to yank the chain on my ceiling fan, the one with the bra permanently wedged between the blades. It turned for days, maybe a week — I forget how long. But at some point, I came home and the bra was on the floor. It had come down on its own. It had needed a push, I guessed, but mostly, it had just needed time.

Alexandra Kimball is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Toronto.

alexandra kimball author photo

“You Keep Coming Up” – Stars (mp3)

“The Stranger” – Stars (mp3)

In Which It Is Only Convenient To Leave London

Tube Air

by ELISA ARMSTRONG

“Let me know if you want me to bring you anything,” whatsapped my best friend from London, in anticipation of her Australian visit. “No, I don’t miss anything actually. Hahahahahahaha” was my quick reply.

I had moved back to Australia after 5 ½ years in London. A move that was partly visa-enforced but mainly emotionally enforced. My mind and feelings drained and slack from years of struggle in a city where apathy outweighs empathy. I had grown tired of peak-hour faces, the particular way the sides of the mouth threaten to drag an entire expression south. Seeing those faces and knowing they were a reflection of my own. Breathing in the tube air, wondering how the rats inhabiting the space actually managed to live past a few days. Holding on, just.

Once I knew I was leaving, one year left on a visa and no chance of renewal, I took pleasure in saying to myself, “That’s the last time you’ll go to this pub/gym/shop/park” and surprised myself by feeling delighted, giddy even, without any sadness. How often does one get a chance to start anew in their home country?

It’s been 6 months and every day I wake up happy that I am no longer in London, but curious as to whether the move was entirely right. Now my peripatetic heart is forced into stagnancy for at least a little while. Friends, tired of Australia, ask for advice on moving to London and it takes all my energy to not scream, “DON’T DO IT.” So instead I say, “You’ll need at least £15,000 to move there. Oh and did I tell you I used to pay £136 a month for tube travel?” That rarely fails to end any conversation.

I have moved to Melbourne. It is not really my home, but the city that contains my mother and all my friends. I only lived here for 2 ½ years but always told acquaintances in London “I’m from Perth AND Melbourne.” Cue confused faces from those enquiring, wondering how someone can be from two ends of a country.

I have moved to the exact area where I used to live. No ghosts here, everything has the glaze of familiarity with none of the emotional connection.

Until I walked to the market. Retracing steps I made from my old share house (2006-2008), I felt lifted into a dream and periodically taken back to my early-mid 20s and the budget constraints that full-time study with no income provides. I walked between stalls looking for the cheapest zucchini to spiralize into low-carb, paleo-friendly, authentically-lacking pasta – I am none of these things except authentically half-Italian. I felt vindicated when I found it $4 cheaper a kilo and greener, but with a lack of polish that endorsed its un-genetically modified state. I walked into the Asian stall, desperate for sriracha, but experienced enough to know that a giant bottle will gain intense crust around the spout before I can finish it. I pass by the stall selling British McVitie’s Hob Nobs, once a favourite, with a smirk on my face.

I moved from a wintry London into an autumnal Melbourne. My body went into shock and in the first month of winter I developed a bronchial infection and lung inflammation. Never mind that Melbourne temperatures in winter are equivalent to London summer (or at least an Edinburgh summer). We can bear extreme weight, more so than slight weight. My body was more ready for polar vortex cold than Australian cold.

To go from winter to winter requires boots. Boots that withstand the long walks I like to make over suburban terrain (and am made fun of for). My boots were purchased in London but worn for a month in Berlin and in Boston and New York. These boots have held up in Melbourne. You have crossed three continents, I tell them, and tell myself.

I do miss one thing about London, being able to leave it: quickly, cheaply, unglamorously, inconveniently. £34.99 for a flight to the part of Spain that seems exclusively for English tourists. £69 for a return Eurostar to Paris: leaving at 6 a.m., and returning after midnight. I miss my friends. I miss being an ex-pat. Not the lifestyle but the state of being. This is all I miss.

Elisa Armstrong is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Melbourne. This is her first appearance in these pages. You can follow her on twitter here.

“I Keep It Composed” – We Were Promised Jetpacks (mp3)

“Bright Minds” – We Were Promised Jetpacks (mp3)

In Which We Administer Opinions And Temper Expectations

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

Should I cheat on my boyfriend? I think I’m bisexual. I love him and can see myself staying with him forever, but I’m afraid the other side may be better and I’m missing out. It would be a one time thing, and he’d never have to know.

Aubrey H.

Dear Aubrey,

Do whatever you want, but don’t do it under the influence of FOMO or buyer’s remorse or self-exploration or whatever it is you’re going through right now.

You’re going to learn so many things about yourself throughout your life, things that will rock your world out of orbit, things that will make everything that was previously really, really important to you seem old and outdated and ill-fitting. Some of it, yeah, you’re going to have to toss. Other things (or people) will reveal themselves to be surprisingly willing to walk through a new door with you. (Threesome?)

Sit down and really think about what you want. Remember: “having it all” is a myth. Everything requires some sort of sacrifice. You don’t have to be a fucking zen master to understand this. You may need to quit Twitter for a while though.

Hi,

My grandma recently moved into a nursing home, and she calls me all the time. I mean, at least twice a week, always in the evening, even though I’ve told her I’m busy at that time. When I don’t pick up or call back right away she freaks out and says she’s worried about me. She’s 94, so it’s not like she’s going to live for that much longer, and I’m afraid that if I blow her off I’ll regret it when she dies, but I also have a life!

Jared V.

Dear Jared,

Pick up the fucking phone. Unless you’re actively curing cancer, deploying nuclear weapons or finding a way to to air Outlander before April, saying “Hi, Grammykins, it’s so good to hear from you” and carrying on a five-minute conversation is the least you can do.&nbsp

Look, I don’t approve of her guilt-tripping, but when you’re 94 you can expect to be allowed to get away with shit. She loves you. She just wants to hear your voice. She’s stuck in a building with people who are forgetting their name, who complain that their children never visit, who fall asleep mid-sentence. She needs you.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.

“Close to Me” – Minnie Driver (mp3)

“Tell Me Why” – Minnie Driver (mp3)

In Which We Avoid Going To Rome At All Costs

Terrace Woman

by MARK ARTURO

Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrera, had chosen Raphael to paint a canvas for him. It would be a spirited depiction of the intervention of the god Bacchus to defend a woman, Ariadne, left alone on an island to die by her lover Theseus, the founder of Athens.

The Duke used a go-between to deal with his artists, Jacopo Tebaldi. Raphael died in 1522, and Bellini was right behind him, so the Duke wanted Titian to paint the canvas. This was a problem, since Titian had no intention of doing this.

After no sign of Bacchus and Ariadne, which he had already paid for, the Duke wrote a letter to Jacopo Tebaldi:

Take care to speak immediately to Titian and tell him to do me a portrait as soon as possible and as though it were alive of an animal called gazelle, which is in the house of the most honorable Giovanni Cornaro. It should fill the entire canvas. Attend to this matter diligently and then send it to us immediately advising us of the cost. And remember to send those spice jars, which were supposed to be sent to us some days ago.

By the time Titian made it to Giovanni Cornaro’s, the gazelle was dead and its body had been tossed in the canal.

Titian kept his girlfriend/housekeeper, Cecilia, in a small house near his studio. She was the daughter of the barber from the country, and she bore him three children, losing the last to a miscarriage. Titian named his first son Pompeo.

It so happened that Bellini had once painted a gazelle. Titian went to see it, and pretended he would paint another for the Duke. He never did, and Giovanni Cornaro’s house burned down in a fire a few years later.

The Duke got progressively more impatient:

See to it that you speak to Titian, and tell him from us that when he left Ferrera he promised us many things, and up to now we have not seen that he has kept any of them, and among others he promised to do for us that canvas which we especially expect from him: and because it does not seem to us worthy of him that he should fail to keep his promises, urge him to behave in a way that will not give us cause to be saddened and angered with him, and to make sure above all that we have the above-mentioned canvas quickly.

Ariadne was King Minos’ daughter. She was left on the beach because Athena appeared to Theseus and told him to leave Ariadne and her sister, who had been married to Theseus but preferred her stepson. Theseus left Ariadne even though she had given him the clue that led him out of the labyrinth.

Titian could not concern himself with these events of the distant past. He was distracted by an altarpiece he was preparing for the local legate. Alfonso considered demanding this piece, and the artist was willing to comply for a price. But it was really Bacchus and Ariadne that the Duke wanted. The Duke invited Titian to spend the Christmas holidays with him: would he perhaps consider bringing Bacchus and Ariadne? Titian went to Treviso instead.

The Duke was irritated, but it’s not like there was another master painter handy. On Tebaldi’s suggestion he invited Titian to come with him to Rome and meet with the pope:

Please advise Titian that if he wants to come he must come quickly. We would dearly like his company, but tell him he must not speak of this matter to anyone. And perhaps he should dispatch our picture at his earliest opportunity because there will be no question of his doing any work on our journey.

I myself recently broke off a relationship. I had been thinking about it for awhile, but recently I was at the Museum of Modern Art, and it didn’t feel quite right. Actually, nothing did. I guess that’s why I am thinking about how Bacchus and Ariadne and how art used to be, even if the conclusion is that the profession is not terribly different now from how it was then.

When Theseus returned to Athens, they left his ship in the docks. Ariadne had given him a ball of yarn to find his way out of the labyrinth. He missed her a lot, but he didn’t go back for her.

Neither the Duke nor Titian went to Rome to see the pope. The heat was now on Tebaldi, who began making excuses for the artist. Most were unflattering – Titian spent too much of his time whoring, he spent money too freely and the like. The first part was maybe partially true. The artist loved the attention of women, but he was not known for consummating the delicate pleasure of flirtation. It was actual work that prevented him from doing what the Duke asked, as well as, perhaps, a lack of inspiration.

At this point the Duke was apoplectic and Titian knew it. He told Tebaldi that “if Christ were to offer him work he would not accept anything if he had not finished your canvas first.”

Ariadne waited on the island called Naxos for some time. Bacchus took pity on her and when he married her, he gave the woman a golden crown. (Better to be married to a god than a man.) The way she looks at him when he saves her lets you know that she is actually the one saving him, a concept that is integrated into the various majority of wedding toasts I have heard recently. By the time Titian had his first daughter, he was married to Cecilia.


When Cecilia was critically ill and in labor with Titian’s fourth child, he hastily married her so that his sons would be acknowledged as his own. She recovered and lived five more years. The Duke married as well, his second such arrangement, to Lucrezia Borgia.

After Bacchus and Ariadne, Titian spent the vast majority of time working on portraits for his wealthy patrons. According to his closest friend Aretino, he could finish them “as quickly as another could scratch the ornament on a chest.” I have always hated Titian’s portraits. The Duke may have been impatient, but he did wait. If the painting wasn’t worth the time it took, he would not have waited.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

“I Miss the Sex” – Macy Gray (mp3)

“First Time” – Macy Gray (mp3)

In Which You Better Start Thinking Of Ways To Make It Up To Me

A Lively Marriage

by DICK CHENEY

The Mindy Project
creator Mindy Kaling

I miss Cliff. Ever since Mindy finally consummated the mediocre sexual attraction between her fellow gynecologist Daniel (Chris Messina), The Mindy Project has turned into a show about a relationship.

In a recent episode of The Mindy Project, a major plot point concerned Mindy’s boyfriend’s talents at cunnilingus, and her telling all the other characters about it. Not only does this make me look bad in my relationship, but I am pretty tired of some asshole being redeemable simply because he is good at giving head (I’m looking at you Michael Caine).

It’s so important to emphasize how good the sex is, because the chemistry that Mindy and Daniel share is largely based on how good his dancing is. He does a short dance in every episode, and usually punctuates it by thrusting his pelvis in a lewd manner. Eventually people had to tell Fred Astaire to stop doing this, and Fred Astaire was a lot better dancer than Mindy’s boyfriend.

What you and every other man did to Chloe Sevigny is unforgivable.

Many shows torpedoed once their long-single protagonists found love, since it is never actually interesting for other people to hear how satisfied you are by your partner. An emotional time was had by all when Ross made love to Rachel in that planetarium; however I once had the job of cleaning a planetarium at a Wyoming-based history museum and it is nowhere you would want to spread a blanket on.

Ross (David Schwimmer) had a much better thing going with this British woman, Emily. Emily (I’m assuming her last name was Bronte?) was very needy and suspicious of Rachel, but considering the situation I guess she had a right to be. Once Rachel and Ross became a very boring couple they moved into an apartment together. I hated the color scheme of this apartment, and all my memories are of Ross complaining there. Eventually they started doing a Joey and Rachel storyline which did not make much sense, and Pheobe married Paul Rudd, which made all the sense in the world for everyone except Paul Rudd.

At least Friends had a variety of eligible men that Rachel could potentially end of the rainbow with.  It must be weird to have a baby on a TV show but not in real life.

Sadly, his nascent sexual attraction to his sister Monica would never be consummated in quite this fashion.

The men in Mindy’s life are all extremely terrible. Danny let his mother disrespect Mindy at an excessively long brunch, and even briefly let his mother think that Ms. Kaling was his cleaning lady. He is constantly looking for things to complain about when he comes to his girlfriend, and should he even suffer the slightest indignity, he tells Mindy, “You better start thinking of ways to make it up to me.” She accepts this for some reason.

Mindy’s other colleagues regularly cheat on their girlfriends, sometimes even with each other. There should be a lot of options for an attractive single gynecologist, but instead she has to get with a police officer who is twenty years older than her (Tim Daly)? Despite his offensive accent, Tim Daly was by far the most handsome of these men; Danny’s lips look like they are permanently sealed in a frown.

I still don’t understand why it was such a big deal to talk to a guy while in a pool.

I’m still mad about what they did to Cliff, though. He was a suave lawyer one second, the next he was singing a Sarah McLachlan song for an entire episode, and projecting a creepy vibe never present in the original Cliff.

It’s not even like you can bring another man into Mindy’s life at this point to complicate things. She will just look flightly after lusting after Castellano for so long and bragging about how good he is at oral, and Daniel would never tolerate an actual competition for the love of a good woman. I’m starting to worry if it is going to be another year of romanticizing a union that never should have happened.

Blake Lively has no chance of pulling that dress off or eating anything but baby food without assistance.

It really chars my balls that Ryan Reynolds was taken, and even now has a baby on the way with that blonde older woman he’s been seeing. If it weren’t for Blake Lively, he would be getting all of Matthew McConaughey’s roles, but who can stand to hear him relating tales about how Blake is absolutely “hangry as all get out when she’s on a cleanse” or his innocent general questions about her, like, “Do you guys think it’s common for a grown woman to say ‘chomp chomp’ when she bites into a carrot?”?

I’m sorry, but Danny Castellano is an asshole for not giving Mindy space in his closet, or telling her that she can’t tell her friends about his proficiency with his mouth. A relationship is only actually fun for the people in it.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Avalon” – The Alarms (mp3)

“Famous Kids” – The Alarms (mp3)